Rahul was being talked about as a possible playing XI candidate for the Sydney Test. Now, that’s not possible anymore.
The possible changes that were on the cards for the third Test before news of Rahul’s injury came in were: Rohit Sharma to possibly replace Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul to possibly replace Hanuma Vihari and Shardul Thakur or T Natarajan to replace the injured Umesh Yadav.
With Rahul now injured, does this then mean that Vihari will hold on to his playing XI berth? In the 2 Tests played so far, Vihari has scored a total of 45 runs in 3 innings.
Another possibility could be that Mayank Agarwal is retained in the playing XI, but drops down the order and replaces Vihari and Rohit Sharma opens the batting with Shubman Gill. That however does not seem to be too big a possibility, thanks to Mayank’s consistent low scores in this series (17, 9, 0, 5), the fact that his role is that of an opener and his changed stance, which is attracting a fair bit of criticism. With both Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw not delivering, India want a stable opening combination. Shubman Gill’s inclusion has solved part of the problem. The team management will be hoping Rohit, who is coming back after a hamstring injury can solve the rest of that problem..
There is one school of thought that Mayank should be given another chance. In that case either he drops down and replaces Vihari and Rohit opens or Rohit replaces Vihari and Mayank continues to open with Gill. But as things stand, Mayank in all probability will have to make way for Rohit at the top of the order.
With Mohammed Siraj being very impressive on debut in the Boxing Day Test, he will hold on to his place. The one forced change required in the bowling department is to find a replacement for the injured Umesh Yadav, since as confirmed by Head Coach Ravi Shastri the team will “stick to five bowlers”.
T Natarajan who stayed back after the limited overs legs to help the team prepare for the Tests and was subsequently added to the Test squad as Umesh Yadav’s replacement gives the Indian team that valuable left arm medium pacer option. Also, as sources had earlier told TOI, if Natarajan plays he will also be able to create footmarks which the likes of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja can exploit, much like what Mitchell Starc does for Nathan Lyon.
On Tuesday, Natarajan shared a photo of himself wearing the India Test whites on Twitter and captioned it – “A proud moment to wear the white jersey. Ready for the next set of challenges”. Is that an indication that he has been told he will make his Test debut in Sydney?
However, with Shardul Thakur also available as an option (after he replaced the injured Mohammed Shami in the squad) and as someone who is more experienced (1 Test, 12 ODIs, 17 T20Is), will the team management lean towards him? There is also Navdeep Saini waiting in the wings, but the big toss up will be between Shardul and Natarajan.
After the brilliant comeback win in Melbourne, the momentum is with Team India. With the series locked at 1-1, the third Test is going to be possibly the most crucial game. India would want to get all team changes bang on right, like they did with Gill, Siraj, Jadeja and Pant in the second Test.
Like they did for the first two Tests, India could announce their playing XI for the Sydney Test on Wednesday, January 6, a day before the third Test match begins at the SCG.