India face the Shaw-Gill selection conundrum ahead of first Test against Australia
With moisture off the surface and true bounce on offer, batting can be inviting in Australian conditions. That’s what was presented to the Indian batsmen in their second essay on Saturday, after they had capitulated on a testing Day 1 pitch at Sydney on Friday. All batsmen barring Prithvi Shaw made sure they capitalised as they warmed up for the first Test starting in Adelaide on December 17.
India amassed 382/4 at close of play; 160 runs came in the final session under lights with Australia A employing lots of overs of friendly spin. Hanuma Vihari (104*) produced a well-compiled innings and Rishabh Pant (103*) blasted a merry hundred with six sixes and nine fours, some on one knee, some with one hand off the handle. Mayank Agarwal (61) too found some form and time in the middle, pacing his fifty to a nicety.
For Shaw, the 21-year-old opener from Mumbai, another Australian tour has started on the wrong note. It was an unfortunate ankle mishap that cost Shaw the tour two years back. Now, following some poor modes of dismissals in the warm-up outings, he may have put his place on the chopping block even before the series kicks off.
Australia A’s was a one-dimensional pace attack. There were runs on offer with the pitch not looking threatening any more. Yet, it didn’t take much effort for the home team to dislodge the opener. Showing little situational awareness, some width and Shaw came out flashing off his high back lift to be caught at cover-point for 3.
With his U-19 World Cup-winning team mate Shubman Gill putting up a contrasting display with an impressive 65 and pushing for a Test debut, is a straight swap for the second opener on the cards at Adelaide?
This team management believes in Shaw’s potential. He was quickly drafted back in the side after serving a back-dated eight-month doping ban. Early in the year, after Shaw had looked ungainly in a dismissal against the short ball from New Zealand’s left-arm quicks, Virat Kohli had spoken of keeping faith. “I think we can sit down and analyse (Shaw) maybe after eight or ten similar dismissals. I don’t see anything wrong. It’s the execution of things which was not there,” the captain had said.
Shaw’s problems on this tour have not been about the short ball, but of being prised out early to deliveries moving in and away from his off-stump. But then, Shaw’s driving methods have never been text book. Yet, he has showcased in domestic cricket his ability to win sessions in no time when he finds his range. He had brought out the same set of shots while putting up a brisk fifty in a side game before his last Australian tour was curtailed.
Kohli had elaborated that the team’s belief in Shaw is inspired by his ability to attack the new ball. “Whenever we have done well overseas, the opening partnership has been with a lot of clarity and positivity even clearing the in-field, taking bowlers on so that you put them under pressure. He is that kind of a player,” he had said.
Besides, the Gill-Shaw decision may be based on the team’s batting plans for the series. If Gill comes in as an opener at Adelaide, then who would replace Kohli in the second Test at Melbourne?
KL Rahul wasn’t given a hit in the tour game to be in contention for an opening or middle-order berth. It would surprise many if Rahul, coming off a rich run of white-ball form, finds a place straightaway in the pink-ball Test. Rohit Sharma will soon be flying to Australia and undergoing quarantine, but BCCI is yet to give him the all-clear for the third Test at Sydney.
Does that mean a couple of Tests for Shaw to make a case, with Gill coming in the middle-order for Kohli after he returns home? India wouldn’t want to go wrong on these selection calls with the home team on the back foot with similar problems. David Warner (injury) and young opener Will Pucovski (concussion) have been ruled out of the first Test, incumbent Joe Burns is woefully short of runs and Marcus Harris is making a comeback after a year.
Indians 194 & 386/4 (M Agarwal 61, S Gill 65, H Vihari 104*, R Pant 103*, M Steketee 2/54);
Australia A 108.