Prithvi Shaw’s Replacement – M Vijay, Shikhar or Mayank Agarwal?
There was a sense of excitement about India's opening combination before this Australia tour. It was mainly due to the fact that 19-year-old Prithvi Shaw was going to take on the fiery Australian pacers on their home turf.
Fairly early in his career, Shaw's name has been attached to an explosive brand of cricket; a style that glues viewers to the television screen. The three innings that he has played in his Test career have all been stroke-filled essays. The Mumbai prodigy also has an adept game against short pitch bowling and he showed that with a breezy 62 in the practice match against Cricket Australia XI.
But then, while fielding on the boundary line during the warm-up game on Friday, Shaw twisted his ankle and was subsequently withdrawn from the squad for the first test that starts 6 December.
Now that he has met an unfortunate injury which might keep him out of action for some time, the Indian team management has three replacement options to choose from.
The first and the most obvious choice is Murali Vijay as he is already in the squad and thus should get the nod as per the pecking order. More on him later.
The second choice is putting Mayank Agarwal on the first flight to Australia and helping him acclimatise to the Australian conditions. Interestingly, Agarwal would not take too long to land in Sydney, or Adelaide for that matter, as he is a part of Indian A, locking horns with New Zealand A.
As has been the case throughout most of his List A career, the opener is in good touch and has cracked 65, 42 and 42 in the three outings that he has got. Saying that he is hungry to prove his mettle on the biggest stage would be an understatement.
The biggest worry for him though is that he is untested at the international level. How he would react under pressure situations is an unknown entity. His performances in front of big crowds (read IPL) are not very promising. Thrusting him straight in Australia in a high-octane Test comes with its own risks.
The third and the last option is to bring back Shikhar Dhawan, a left-field move. The way Dhawan toyed with the Australian bowling in the third T20 showed that he is extremely comfortable in dealing with the pace and bounce of the Australian pitches. He is also close by in Melbourne, his second home, just a phone call away.
Just as for Rohit Sharma, this can turn out to be a golden opportunity for Dhawan as the ball will not swing too much Down Under. Although with little rewards, Dhawan applied himself in England and at least showed the drive to survive in difficult batting conditions. He also made a few changes to his technique and 'tried' to play close to his body.
India’s Slow Top Three
The first Test, especially of an overseas tour, is the most important game as it sets the tone for the rest of the tour. Similarly, the opening partnership becomes extremely crucial as it dictates the way in which the the rest of the batting order go about their business.
It is because of this very reason that India must think twice before writing down KL Rahul, Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara as their top three on the team sheet in Adelaide. All three of them do not have too many runs under their belt.
Rahul has an average of less than 25 in 2018. If you take away his century in the Oval Test, the numbers are even more appalling. But, even if these three manage to stitch together some runs among them, the bigger worry is the rate at which they would literally accumulate those runs.
So, as stated above, replacing Shaw with Murali Vijay seems the most obvious option. However, numbers paint a different story.
The biggest worry, as I said, is the strike rate. If you think Pujara is slow to get off the blocks, Vijay is no different. Vijay's strike rate of 39.69 in 2018 is nothing short of a mirror image of Pujara's 39.42.
The classy opener scored 26 runs from four innings at an average of 6.50 in England before being axed from the Test team. Yes, he scored some runs at the county level to earn a call-up but there's more to the picture.
Except the 105 against Afghanistan at home, Vijay’s Test scores in 2018 are 1, 13, 46, 9, 8, 25, 20, 6, 0 and 0. This adds to 128 runs in 10 Test innings at a terrible average of 12.8.
Contrary to perception, Vijay's overall away numbers are not flattering either. 1,676 runs in 29 Tests at an average of 32.23 is all The Monk has managed.
It is then safe to conclude that while replacing Shaw with Vijay could be the most obvious option, but given Vijay’s struggles in recent times, it's certainly not the best one. Picking Dhawan could be a very tempting move but as he has been dropped, cricketing logic says that he must now wait before others get their due. And at the moment, there is perhaps no one in Indian cricket who is due more than Agarwal.
(Saksham Mishra is a freelance sports journalist, justifying hours of watching sports by scribbling down a few logical lines that might just about hold your interest. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)