KL Rahul out, Ravichandran Ashwin doubtful - What India's Playing XI might look like for England Test
With the home T20I series against South Africa completed at a 2-2 result, India’s prime focus now shifts to the fifth rescheduled Test against England in Edgbaston beginning July 1, although there’s a two-match T20I series in Ireland preceding it, wherein Hardik Pandya will lead a relatively inexperienced outfit.
Quite a lot has changed in terms of the leadership core for India since their last visit to England, where they led 2-1 after four Tests before the fifth Test was cancelled due to a covid-19 outbreak. Rohit Sharma has taken over as the all-format captain from Virat Kohli, while Ajinkya Rahane, the vice-captain then, has been left out of the squad following underwhelming returns. The coaching staff is now headed by Rahul Dravid, after Ravi Shastri had resigned following the T20 World Cup 2021.
India have played seven Tests in Birmingham till date, having lost six of them - three by an innings margin. The drawn result had come in 1986, when they stood 174/5 in a run-chase of 236 when the game would be called off, still enough for them to secure a historic 2-0 series triumph. They’d come close in their most recent outing in 2018, thanks to Virat Kohli’s brilliant 149 and 51, but fell short by 31 runs.
India will be without the services of KL Rahul, who will travel to Germany to nurse his groin injury later this month. Rahul was India’s second highest run-scorer in the four Tests in England last year, with 315 runs at 39.38, including a match-winning hundred at Lord’s.
Moreover, Ravichandran Ashwin too, is doubtful for the game after having tested covid-19 positive before the team’s departure. He’s expected to join the squad ahead of their practice game in Leicester, but that hasn’t been confirmed yet.
Considering all the scenarios, here’s a breakdown of India’s likely Playing XI:
Rohit Sharma, Shubhman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara
Rohit Sharma was India’s leading run-scorer in the four Tests in the country last year, with 368 runs at 52.57 and a match-winning hundred at The Oval. He’ll likely be partnered by Shubman Gill this time around, with Rahul unavailable. Gill had played in India’s two home Tests against New Zealand late last year, but had failed to convert his starts into substantial scores, registering 52, 1, 44 and 7 across the two outings. He scored 9 and 19 in the Ranji Trophy 2022 quarterfinal for Punjab against Madhya Pradesh earlier this month, and would now seek a fresh beginning to his red-ball career.
The striking factor though would be Cheteshwar Pujara and No.3, who has somewhat redeemed himself with an outstanding run in the County Championship 2022. Pujara aggregated 720 runs at 120 for Sussex, his sequence in the eight outings reading - 6, 201*, 109, 12, 203, 16, 125* and 3.
Virat Kohli, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant
Virat Kohli continues to be the backbone of India’s Test middle-order, if not the whole line-up itself, as he seeks his elusive 71st international hundred, while Rishabh Pant remains the leading gloveman. There’s a toss up between Hanuma Vihari and Shreyas Iyer for the No.5 spot in Rahane’s absence.
Though Iyer has had a fabulous start to his Test career, with a hundred on debut and a brilliant counter-attacking 92 and 67 in the pink-ball game against Sri Lanka earlier this year, there are still questions over his technical proficiency against pace and movement. Vihari has aced that challenge more than once, as he showcased on his debut at The Oval in 2018, and none as significantly as during his epic rearguard in Sydney last year. He might just get a nod ahead of the Mumbaikar.
Ravindra Jadeja and Shardul Thakur
Jadeja was preferred over Ashwin last year in England, and the uncertainty over the latter’s availability means that he could take the No.7 spot yet again, after a return from injury break. However, it'd be an incredibly tough call if Ashwin is fully fit, given his consistency in the limited chances he's got overseas in recent years.
Shardul, who bagged 7/61 at the Wanderers earlier this year, is a value addition at No.8 with his efficient batting, which was on display in both innings at The Oval last year and in India’s historic triumph at the Gabba 2021.
Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj
Bumrah and Shami would spearhead the pace battery, with Siraj and Thakur to complete a four-pronged attack. Umesh Yadav had bagged three wickets in each innings in the 157-run win at The Oval last year, but Siraj’s overall superior red-ball exploits on recent overseas tours might just make him the preferred third pick.
India's likely XI for Edgbaston Test
Rohit Sharma (c)
India's Test squad: Rohit Sharma (c), KL Rahul (vc) Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Hanuma Vihari, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rishabh Pant (wk), KS Bharat (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Mohd Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohd Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Prasidh Krishna