Veteran left-handed opener Gautam Gambhir of Delhi received the nod ahead of Abhinav Mukund of Tamil Nadu to replace the injured right-handed KL Rahul for the remaining two Tests between India and New Zealand, the second of which will be played at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata from September 30.
Rahul, who has been in prolific form in all the formats and scored 32 and 38 at a healthy strike rate in Kanpur, suffered a hamstring injury during the first Test and has been ruled out of the Kolkata game. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said on Tuesday night: “BCCI medical team has confirmed that team India opener, KL Rahul has an injury in his right hamstring and he is ruled out for the remainder of the Paytm Test series against New Zealand. The All-India Senior Selection Committee has named Gautam Gambhir as Rahul’s replacement for the next two Test matches.”
As regards the lanky pacer Sharma, BCCI said: “Medium pacer Ishant Sharma is recovering and won’t be available for the second Test of the series to played in Kolkata. BCCI medical Team will continue to monitor his progress. Off spinner Jayant Yadav will replace Ishant for the second Test.”
An off-spinner replacing a pacer, especially when the team is packed with three frontline spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra defies logic.
Either Mukund or Gambhir, based on their fitness test reports, were to join the Indian team in Kolkata. Gambhir was at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru to undergo fitness tests and left the city on Tuesday morning.
It may raise many an eye brow that the selectors were looking at Gambhir and Mukund as an option early in the season that still has 12 Tests to be played as both the left-handers last played for India quite a while ago.
While Gambhir played the last of his 56 Tests in the fifth and final Test in England in August 2014, and has since been overlooked for 17 subsequent Tests till date, the 26-year-old Tamil Nadu opener played the last of his five Tests in England on the 2011 tour.
Gambhir got off to a roaring start to the season, scoring four half-centuries in five Duleep Trophy innings for India Blue including two scores in the 90s. The confidence of the runs behind him plus the fact that he returns to the Test team in his ‘home’ city Kolkata, base of Kolkata Knight Riders, of which he is the captain.
Whether the 34-year-old Gambhir will get to play ahead of Shikhar Dhawan, who was warming the bench in Kanpur, will be interesting to see.
Immediately after India completed the formalities on the fifth day of their 500th Test against New Zealand to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series, the out-of-form Dhawan had an open net session at Green Park on Monday. Among those bowling to him was chief coach Anil Kumble. Perhaps, it was an indication that Dhawan would get one last chance to resurrect his Test career.
Dhawan has not grabbed any of the umpteen chances he got at the highest level and also in the Duleep match soon after returning from the West Indies, where he was dropped after three Tests. He did himself no good by scoring just 29 in each of the two innings for India Red. Dhawan was left out from the playing 11 after the third Test in the Caribbean after his scores were only declining following 84 in the first Test in Antigua. By notching up 27, 1 and 26 in the subsequent two Tests, Dhawan was only inviting trouble.
With Gambhir chosen for a possible return to Test line-up, the other young openers in the fray, especially the India ‘A’ players, would be left wondering what more do they have to do get the selectors’ nod. Karnataka opener Mayank Agarwal was as consistent as Gambhir in Duleep Trophy.
In fact, the 25-year-old had a fifty-plus score in each of his five visits to the crease including a 161 in the first innings against India Green. And, he also had two back-to-back fifties in the Karnataka Premier League, playing for Belagavi Panthers.
The likes of India ‘A’ openers Karun Nair, Faiz Fazal and Akhil Herwadkar, who top-scored for India ‘A’ with 82* in the last four-day game against Australia ‘A’ in Brisbane recently, or for that matter Shreyar Iyer, who though has been Mumbai’s No. 3 batsman but has been scoring heavily in the last two seasons, would only have to go back to the domestic format and score runs by the tons to be considered for the highest level.
Another interesting point to be looked out for in the coming days is whether Test captain Virat Kohli will straightaway draft his Delhi senior mate Gambhir, with whom he has openly had fights, or give Dhawan another chance.