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KL Rahul still deserves opener’s slot despite Gill being in the mix; Shreyas walks back at number 5

Border Gavaskar Trophy 2022-23: KL Rahul still deserves opener’s slot despite Shubman Gill being in the mix; Shreyas Iyer walks back at number 5. India-Australia 2nd Test will be played in Delhi.

Ind vs Eng 2nd Test, Day 1 Highlights_ KL Rahul struck a century at lords and remain unbeaten at 127 | Walking Wicket (Images_ ©BCCI/Twitter)
KL Rahul likely to open with Rohit Sharma in Delhi Test (Images: ©BCCI/Twitter)

Ahead of the second Test between India and Australia in Delhi starting on February 17, India face the dilemma of settling down on the right team combination.

It seems settled, given Shreyas Iyer’s returns over the last year and a half that he warrants a place back in the middle order after his return from an injury break. The pertinent question is whether KL Rahul warrants a spot as an opener with Shubman Gill being in sublime form of late, albeit in the ODI format.

Let’s scan the numbers of Rahul and Gill in Tests as openers.

KL Rahul narrowly pips Gill for the opener’s slot

Since 2017, KL Rahul has scored 470 runs at an average of 39.16 with 6 fifties in 8 Tests against Australia. He scored 6 fifties against Australia at home in the 2017-18 Border Gavaskar Trophy. Hence, Rahul could be more effective as an opener if the team management decides to give him another chance ahead of an in-form Shubman Gill.

Shubman Gill has scored 736 runs in 13 Tests at an average of 32, out of which 689 runs have come as an opener at an average of 31.31. He was brilliant in the 2020-21 BGT played in Australia where he scored a match-winning 91 in the historic Gabba Test, and made 259 runs in 3 Tests at an average of 51.80, with 2 fifties to his name.

KL Rahul has scored 2533 runs as an opener in 43 Tests at an average of 35.67, with 7 hundreds and 12 fifties to his name.

Although there is not a big difference in the averages of Rahul and Gill as opener and despite the former’s indifferent for of late, the Karnataka batter still makes a bigger claim to the opener’s spot, given his wider experience and his past record at home against the Kangaroos.

India vs New Zealand, 1st Test, 2021 - Shreyas Iyer raises his bat as he scores century on Test debut (Images_ ©BCCI/Twitter)
Shreyas Iyer likely to replace Surya in 2nd Test (Images: ©BCCI/Twitter)

Shreyas Iyer walks back at the number 5 slot

Shreyas Iyer is likely to replace Suryakumar Yadav in the middle-order as KL Rahul is ruled out to drop down the order considering his returns as opener in Tests against Australia. SKY made his debut in the Nagpur game where he was dismissed for 8 while playing all over a drive against Nathan Lyon. SKY was supposed to do the job that Rishabh Pant, who is not in the squad due to a car accident, has done successfully for India in Tests in recent times.

Iyer has tackled the challenges of a middle-order batter quite well in Asian conditions. He has been extremely authoritative against spin and handled pace bowling with the old ball well. Besides he averages 54.05 in the middle order. Hence, the team needs Iyer as a middle-order batter to nullify the threat of opposition spin bowling in a crucial series like this one, as it will decide the fate of India in World Test Championship (WTC) 2021-23.

Iyer’s recent show against Bangladesh serves as another reminder that he should be back in the XI for the Delhi Test. Iyer scored two fifties in 3 innings against Bangladesh and played a brilliant cameo of 29* at number 8 to take India across the finish line in the Mirpur Test. Hence, Iyer’s recent form and his numbers so far as a middle-order batter make him a sure-shot selection in place of SKY for the Delhi Test.

“Iyer has bailed India out from tough situations”: Rahul Dravid

India coach Rahul Dravid also admits Iyer’s role as a middle-order batter in helping Team India’s causes in Tests. “We’ve been in some tough situations, and he (Iyer), Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja, really, have been the ones who’ve been bailing us out and playing those critical knocks.”

Dravid also praised Iyer’s temperament in dealing with tough situations. “…that temperament, that ability to find solutions and find answers when we're under pressure, and from the little sample size that we have, he's been very good at that,” Dravid added.

Although Dravid didn’t confirm Iyer will play the Delhi Test ahead of SKY, he hinted that Iyer is likely to get his position back that was occupied by SKY in the Nagpur Test. “They know that if they are replacing someone who is injured, that person will probably come back, and the same thing will be followed for them as well,” he said.

Border Gavaskar Trophy 2022-2023, India vs Australia, 1st Test, Day 1_ Rohit Sharma scores 120 against Australia in Nagpur  _ Walking Wicket (Images_ ©BCCI_Twitter)
Rohit scores fantastic century (120) against Australia in Nagpur (Images: ©BCC/Twitter)

India’s Likely Top 6

So, here are the players competing for the top 6 in the playing XI for Delhi Test.

Openers – An in-form Gill is breathing down Rahul’s neck for the second opener’s spot to partner Rohit Sharma. Rahul’s failure with the bat in the Nagpur Test has created more troubles for him and faces the danger of losing his spot to Gill.

Number 3 - Cheteshwar Pujara played a reckless shot to get dismissed in the Nagpur Test. He would look to make amends in the Delhi Test and also make his 100th Test memorable.

Number 4 - Kohli is long due for a Test century, and he could look to turn around his form in Tests with a big knock at his home ground in Delhi.

Number 5 – Iyer is fit and ready to go. But it means that SKY who made his debut in the Nagpur Test will have to sit out. Even coach Rahul Dravid has hinted at Iyer getting back his place on his return.

Number 6 – KS Bharat/Ishan Kishan – Bharat showed good intent with the bat but could not make a big impression. However, his keeping was tidy. India will be tempted to bring Kishan who can play a counter-attacking knock to blunt the opposition attack.

Likely Top 6 – India are unlikely to make many changes to the batting order, except handing Iyer his place back in the XI. So, the likely Top 6 are Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer and KS Bharat.

The second Test of Border Gavaskar Trophy 2022-23 between India and Australia begins on Friday.


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