The Indian cricket team for Paytm Freedom Series for Gandhi-Mandela Trophy has been announced. The notable omission from the team is KL Rahul, who had a bad test series in West Indies. Shubman Gill has been named as his replacement. Rahul's omission propels senior batsman Rohit Sharma to the opener's role in red-ball cricket.
Rookie Punjab batsman Shubman Gill has been rewarded with a place in the Test side as back-up floater, who can fit in both as an opener and a middle-order batsman.
"Yes, we are definitely looking at him (Rohit) and want to give him an opportunity up the order. He is keen (on opening) and the selection committee as well as everyone (team management) is keen. We want to see where he stands and then take a call," said Chairman of Selectors MSK Prasad after the meeting of the panel.
"With regards to Shubman Gill, we look at him as an opener as well as middle-order batsman. We are looking at him as back-up for both the slots. As he keeps playing more and more, he will get his opportunities, because he is a player for all three formats," he observed.
Another significant development was that Rishabh Pant, despite retaining his place in the squad, could lose his spot in the playing XI to a more accomplished Wriddhiman Saha.
India's first Test against South Africa will start in Visakhapatnam on October 2, while the second and third games will be held in Pune (October 10-14) and Ranchi (October 19-23) respectively.
Umesh Yadav was dropped from the side as, in Indian conditions, one can't have the luxury of four specialist pacers when only two will finally play.
Rohit will captain the Board President's XI in a three-day warm-up match against the Proteas in Vizianagaram from September 26, where he will also test himself in the new role.
The 32-year-old's stupendous success in white ball cricket has prompted the selectors to take a call on his batting position.
"He is opening in white-ball cricket for a decade now (for six years) and I am sure he has that ability to bat up the order. We have seen that in red ball cricket and if he can replicate that in white ball cricket, nothing like it," Prasad said.
For Rahul, who has scored only one Test hundred in over 18 months, Prasad said that the Karnataka player got a fair run but a dip in form forced the panel to go for a change.
"We definitely communicated to KL. He is an exceptional talent and unfortunately his form has dipped in red-ball cricket," Prasad said.
"With Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay gone, we can't keep changing both the openers in the side. Someone had to stick around. And probably with seniors, who exiting, KL got more opportunities. Unfortunately, he was not delivering consistently. He delivered in patches and that's why we backed him because when he is on song, he is treat to watch."
Asked what the road ahead is for Rahul, Prasad gave the example of VVS Laxman. "When VVS Laxman was once dropped from the Indian team, he went back to domestic cricket, scored 1400 runs in the Ranji Trophy and came back. KL has to do the same," said Prasad.
The selectors indicated that they have created a pool of openers and whoever now gets an opportunity, will get a long rope just like Rahul did.
"So you know, in the pipeline, Shubman is opening and we have Priyank Panchal and Abhimanyu Easwaran, who is doing extremely well. From the available lot, we will look at giving them as many opportunities.
"Whoever gets an opportunity, also gets a fair run. We have alternatives and back-ups, we have created bench strength," Prasad asserted.
All-rounder Hardik Pandya was not included in the side because there is very little chance of him fitting into the XI in the Indian conditions.
"Hardik is not in the side because if you look at home conditions, he may not fit in. Also a lot of white ball cricket being played, it's a culmination of both."
Prasad also gave a fair indication that team management's patience with Rishabh Pant is finally running out even though he remains the first-choice for the selection panel.
Asked who among Rishabh or Wriddhiman the first choice is, Prasad gave a twisted reply.
"My answer is same. Let's see. Rishabh definitely to begin with but we will see whether the team management thinks on those lines. Let's leave it to them. Also in India, we need a 'keeper with some more skills playing at home, let's see how it goes," he said.
Prasad also felt that it's better that Umesh Yadav plays domestic cricket as he has no chance to fit in the playing XI when one among Ishant and Shami will be dropped at home.
"We couldn't have Umesh here as it will be two seamers who will play. If it's really a seaming track, we go for the third one. So Umesh may not play. For him, it is better to play domestic cricket as we are in domestic season. He is in India A side," Prasad added.
India’s squad for 3 Tests:
Virat Kohli (Capt), Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vc), Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wk),Wriddhiman Saha (wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Shubman Gill
With agency inputs