Injured Rohit Sharma out of SA Tests, Priyank Panchal called into squad

  • Hamstring injury to the India opener and new Test vice-captain will add to India’s batting challenges against South Africa’s formidable pace attacks in the series starting on Dec 26.
India's Rohit Sharma goes back to Pavillion after being dismissed during the second day of the test match between India and England, at Trent Bridge in Nottingham on Thursday
India's Rohit Sharma goes back to Pavillion after being dismissed during the second day of the test match between India and England, at Trent Bridge in Nottingham on Thursday
Updated on Dec 14, 2021 04:17 PM IST
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In a body blow to the Indian cricket team three days before taking the flight to South Africa, vice-captain and opener Rohit Sharma has been ruled out of the three-Test series due to a hamstring injury.

Sharma experienced pain midway through a batting net in Mumbai on Sunday and it is learnt subsequent tests have revealed he would fail to regain fitness for the Test series starting on December 26 and scheduled to end on January 15.

Gujarat opener Priyank Panchal has been called up and joined the team’s bio-bubble at a suburban Mumbai hotel on Monday. He would fly with the team as Sharma’s replacement for Johannesburg on Thursday morning.

Sharma had batted with authority for half-an-hour in Sunday’s net session before he appeared to be troubled by after a delivery from throw-down specialist Raghavendra struck him on the glove. Sharma grimaced in pain, but it was due to a “left hamstring injury”, BCCI said in a press statement on Monday. He faced one more delivery before leaving the batting net as the support staff present at the training looked on. Sharma masked the pain for the rest of the training session, and took selfies from a distance with fans gathered on the edge of the venue. He may have known that his tour depended on scan reports, which have now come out.

The injury could not have be more ill-timed for Sharma and the Indian team. He had been elevated as the vice-captain of the Test team ahead of the tour, in addition to being handed India’s white-ball leadership. Since being promoted to open the batting in Tests from October 2019 onwards, the Mumbai batter has amassed 1,462 runs at an average of 58.48. He was India’s top-scorer in this year’s Test series against England, which stands at 2-1 with the fifth and final Test to be played next year. His proficiency against the short ball was expected to be a primary counter-attacking weapon for India on the bouncy tracks against South Africa’s fast-bowling attack led by Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje.

With none other than captain Virat Kohli appearing to be an automatic selection in the playing eleven for the entire series at the moment, the selectors haven’t named a new vice-captain. A call could well be taken in the course of the tour. Ajinkya Rahane, who Sharma replaced as the team’s deputy, has been woefully short of runs, averaging 19.57 in 12 Tests this year. The other senior batter Cheteshwar Pujara has also had his batting struggles while KL Rahul, the new ODI vice-captain, is yet to cement his place as an opener.

The India team has been terribly unlucky with the injuries of their Test openers. Rahul—he replaced his Karnataka team-mate Mayank Agarwal—came up with impressive performances in England but missed the home series against New Zealand due to a left thigh injury. He could well be opening the innings in the first Test at Centurion with Agarwal, who was restored to the opening spot replacing Rahul against New Zealand. Agarwal registered a dominating hundred on a turning track in Mumbai. Panchal remains a back-up opener. Shubman Gill, who at the start of the year was ahead in the pecking order and opened against New Zealand, has already been ruled out injured.

With the engine room of India’s batting comprising Pujara, Kohli and Rahane all coming off below par showing through the past two years in Test cricket, they could come under further pressure if the openers fail to step up to the challenge in South Africa.

SHARMA’S HAMSTRING AGAIN

While the exact nature of Sharma’s hamstring injury isn’t known, BCCI confirmed it was his left-hamstring. Sharma had suffered a high-grade left hamstring injury during IPL 2020 and controversially returned to action in a week, leading Mumbai Indians to their fifth title. He then sat out the white-ball leg and the first two Tests of the Australia tour that followed “to continue work on his endurance”.

A BCCI official sounded confident that based on the injury rehab timelines Sharma will return in time to lead India in South Africa for the ODI series that begins on Jan 19. But given the fragile nature of his hamstring, if Sharma requires more time to recover, it could complicate the team dynamics, the ODI captaincy having recently been taken away from Kohli, who, it is understood was keen to continue leading India into the ODI World Cup at home in 2023. The BCCI and selectors refused to play ball once he decided to give up T20I captaincy, a call he took before the October-November T20 World Cup where India failed to advance to the semi-finals.

DE KOCK DOUBTFUL

South Africa wicketkeeper-batter Quinton de Kock could miss the second and third Tests, in Johannesburg and Cape Town, with his wife expecting the birth of their child in early January, ESPNCricinfo website reported on Monday.

KNOW PANCHAL

Panchal, 31 has been toiling on the domestic circuit for more than a decade and is a mainstay of Gujarat batting. The right-handed opener began to be seen as a contender for the India team after scoring more than 1,000 runs, including a triple hundred, in the 2016-17 season in which Gujarat won the Ranji Trophy. Panchal was also chosen in India’s long squad for the England tour. He had a recent feel of South African pitch conditions. He scored an impressive 96 for India A against South Africa A last month in the first of three four-day matches before injuring his finger in the next match, in which he could only score 24 and 0 battling pain. According to a source close to the player, he has fully recovered.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Rasesh Mandani loves a straight drive. He has been covering cricket, the governance and business side of sport for close to two decades. He writes and video blogs for HT.

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