The equation for India’s opening pair ahead of the rescheduled fifth and final Test at Edgbaston is pretty straightforward: if captain Rohit Sharma makes a miraculous recovery from Covid-19, he will open the batting. If not, then India can look towards other options in the squad like Cheteshwar Pujara, KS Bharat or Mayank Agarwal.
Pujara had opened the innings for India seven times previously in Test cricket, with the last instance coming during the second Test against New Zealand in Mumbai last year when Gill was injured. Vihari, meanwhile, opened the innings only once during the Boxing Day Test against Australia at Melbourne in 2018 but looked scratchy while making 3, 20 and 26 in the warm-up match against Leicestershire.
Agarwal has been a specialist opener since his Test debut in 2018 but he will be getting only practice sessions as preparation after flying in to England from India on Monday. Former India all-rounder Ajit Agarkar said he would like to see either Pujara or Hanuma Vihari open the batting alongside Gill if Sharma isn’t fit in time for the Edgbaston Test starting from Friday.
“I know KS Bharat got some runs in the warm-up game. The team management will probably have a look at how prepared Mayank Agarwal is after joining the team. I don’t know if he has enough time to prepare for this one-off Test. With Rohit in isolation, I believe experience will help in opening, whether it is Vihari or Pujara, who has been around for a long time.
“Vihari has already opened for India a couple of times. So, that would be my pick, one of those two if Mayank doesn’t look quite ready as he didn’t have enough time in the nets and is clearly not going to get any (practice) games now. In my opinion, it’s better to go with a little bit more experience because it is a one-off Test,” said Agarkar in a virtual interaction organised by Sony Sports.
Bharat, picked as the second wicketkeeper-batter in the squad, had an impressive outing in the warm-up match against Leicestershire. In the first innings, he impressed with his application and stroke-play in top-scoring with 70 not out while batting in the middle order, when rest of the Indian batters failed to make a substantial score. In the second innings, he made 43 while opening the batting against a bowling attack which included Jasprit Bumrah, Prasidh Krishna and Navdeep Saini.
“With Pujara being back in top-order and Vihari having couple of good Tests against Sri Lanka at home while batting at number three, he’s got runs which is what he could do. He was given an opportunity in warm-up, so he put his name up there. Whether he gets the nod or not, I am sure there will be discussion around it within the team management. But the good thing is, at least he got some runs under his belt if he does get that opportunity,” observed Agarkar.
After being left out for the home series against Sri Lanka, Pujara got back into the Test side after scoring 720 runs in eight innings for Sussex in the early part of County Championship Division Two, including four centuries, at a whopping average of 120. He also made 203 against Durham at Hove in April, in a bowling attack which also had England pacer Matthew Potts, who picked 14 wickets in an impressive debut series against New Zealand.
“It was a good thing for the Indian team that he was there and playing in those conditions. We don’t quite know the conditions he had countered but I am sure that there has been enough seam and swing for a month or so that he’s been there. Also, he has got the experience, 90-odd Tests (95), which is a terrific career.
“It’s come at the right time also as it’s a one-off Test and not many Indian batters have been playing in these conditions. It is an advantage and facing England bowlers will be a tougher challenge. But he’s been there before, so it is certainly good for the Indian team,” said Agarkar ahead of the fifth Test against England, which will be broadcast on Sony Six and Sony Ten 3 channels from July 1-5.