Rohit Sharma’s positive test blow for India ahead of England Test
Team India skipper Rohit Sharma has tested positive for Covid-19, the BCCI informed on Sunday.
If KL Rahul’s groin injury that ruled him out of the England Test at Edgbaston from July 1 wasn't enough of a setback, India’s problems at the top of the order have compounded after skipper and fellow opener Rohit Sharma tested positive for Covid-19 in a Rapid Antigen Test on Saturday. He is in isolation at the team hotel in Leicester, a BCCI statement said.
While his RT-PCR test result is awaited, his participation in the decider—India lead the series 2-1 after the fifth Test was postponed last year—is touch and go. Sharma batted in the first innings of India’s warm-up game against Leicestershire—it ended in a draw on Sunday—and scored 25, but he didn’t take the field thereafter.
It throws a spanner in India’s plans given that Sharma and Rahul were the in-form batters in the series last year. Aside from England’s Joe Root—he made 564 runs in four Tests—only the openers scored more than 300 runs in challenging conditions for the batters. They showed immaculate judgement outside off-stump and exercised restraint for long durations.
If Sharma ends up on the sidelines like Rahul, it will leave India with only five specialist batters in the squad. Given that India’s T20I squad is in Ireland for a two-match series, a replacement from there will be easier to call up. Suryakumar Yadav, a part of the Ireland series, was notably added to the Test squad for the England series last year while Ruturaj Gaikwad may also be in with an outside chance if a specialist opener is the priority. Opener Priyank Panchal, currently in Ahmedabad, is another option since he was part of the Test squad for India’s last assignment against Sri Lanka in February.
As things stand, though, Shubman Gill, Hanuma Vihari, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer are set to be the top five batters with wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant at No 6.
While Gill had an encouraging start to his Test career on the bouncy pitches in Australia, he hasn’t kicked on since then. Since scoring 91 in the second innings of India’s series-clinching win against Australia at the Gabba in January 2021, he has registered a highest score of 52 in 13 innings. His technique against the moving ball will be put to a rigorous test by James Anderson, Stuart Broad and the rest of the England attack at Edgbaston.
He warmed up for the challenge by scoring 62 off 77 balls for Leicestershire on Sunday as the four-day practice game was drawn. The opener from Punjab had also batted for India in both innings (21 and 38).
Vihari too has had a stop-start Test career. After making his debut in the fifth and final Test at the Oval in 2018, he has only played 14 more Tests, 11 of which were away from home. His opening experience is limited to one Test, making 8 and 13 against Australia in Melbourne in 2018.
With Shreyas Iyer just four Tests old and Kohli and Pujara looking to rekindle their touch, India’s batting doesn’t evoke much confidence at the moment. England’s batters, in contrast, must be oozing with confidence after their series win over New Zealand in the ongoing three-Test series. They have been in precarious positions in a couple of instances, but Jonny Bairstow has led the way by taking the aggressive route and putting the pressure back on the bowlers.
Brief scores: India 246/8d and 364/7d. Leicestershire 244 and 219/4 (S Gill 62; R Ashwin 2/31). Match drawn.