Cricket

India vs England: 'Why not KL Rahul?,' Ashish Nehra backs Karnataka batsman to open with Rohit Sharma in first Test

While Shubman Gill returned home on 21 July after being ruled out, Mayank Agarwal, too, was eventually ruled out of the first Test at Trent Bridge, with a concussion test pending. This adds to the dilemma of who could open with Rohit Sharma in the series-opener.

India vs England: 'Why not KL Rahul?,' Ashish Nehra backs Karnataka batsman to open with Rohit Sharma in first Test

KL Rahul even scored a century against County Select XI in the warm-up match in July. Image Credit: Twitter/ @BCCI

Shubman Gill has been ruled out of the Test series with a shin injury. Mayank Agarwal is hit on the head by a Mohammed Siraj bouncer during training on Monday. Time is running out for Virat Kohli-led India ahead of their Test series against England starting on Wednesday, and there seems to be an opening conundrum once again for the visitors.

KL Rahul even scored a century against County Select XI in the warm-up match in July. Image Credit: Twitter/ @BCCI

KL Rahul even scored a century against County Select XI in the warm-up match in July. Image Credit: Twitter/ @BCCI

While Shubman Gill returned home on 21 July, Agarwal, too, was eventually ruled out of the first Test at Trent Bridge, with a concussion test pending. This adds to the dilemma of who could open with Rohit Sharma in the series-opener.

Former pacer Ashish Nehra, though, is of the opinion that KL Rahul should open in Agarwal’s absence. Prithvi Shaw is another option for the openers’ slot, but Shaw and Suryakumar Yadav have only left for England on Tuesday after the delayed Sri Lanka series ended last Thursday. They will have to undergo hard quarantine on reaching England, which would make them available only from the third Test onwards. The second Test begins on 12 August at Lord’s.

Vihari and Pujara have also been floated as options to open with Rohit, but Nehra does not see anyone other than Rahul for the slot.

“Whoever plays, either if it’s Pujara or Vihari, it’s a makeshift arrangement, or I heard that the team management said on KL Rahul that they were only looking at slotting him in the middle-order, but see, we’ve seen KL Rahul in white-ball cricket, where we have seen him as an opener. So, before Vihari, why not Rahul?,” Nehra argued during a virtual interaction on Tuesday.

“Although I already feel that we have too many players in terms of openers. Too many people are floating around that opening slot. Now, Rohit Sharma is one, I hope he plays all Test matches and he does well. If Agarwal’s not playing, who will play? Prithvi Shaw, his upcoming replacement. But given a choice, I would go with somebody like Rahul,” continued the World Cup-winning pacer.

It has to be, however, duly noted that Rahul did score a century (149) at The Oval against England, in 2018, as a Test opener. He has been in and out of the Test squad every now and then, but across the 33 Tests he’s opened in his career, he has scored 1915 runs, at an average of 36.82. During his time as a Test opener, he’s also amassed five centuries.

“Again, team management said they were looking at Rahul in middle-order, but Vihari is also a middle-order batsman. Pujara bats at No 3. Again, Pujara opening the innings is a short-term quick fix. So, either you want it that way, or would you want to take a chance and go with Rahul, and see what he can do,” added the former pacer.

Siraj has to wait for his turn’

Pacer Jasprit Bumrah may not be at his best at the moment while struggling with fitness and injury concerns, but Nehra expects Bumrah to keep his place in the upcoming Test series. This could mean Mohammed Siraj, who has been waiting in the wings, will need to do so patiently, according to Nehra.

Mohammed Siraj was subjected to racial abuse by a section of crowd during Sydney Test. AP

File image of Mohammed Siraj. AP

“Yes, Mohammed Siraj is waiting in the wings, and he has to wait for his turn. Everybody knows Siraj is a great prospect, skillful bowler, but here, you’re talking about Jasprit Bumrah, who has done really well in the last five-six years. The way the situation in the world has been in the last 18 months, with COVID, so many boys are going through so many bubbles, now you’ve mentioned Jasprit Bumrah’s injury, it’s not easy,” commented the 42-year-old.

Siraj made his debut against Australia last year in a series where he picked up 13 wickets, but despite making the squad in the World Test Championship final against New Zealand in June, he did not find himself in the playing XI for the contest.

In a match that was initially interrupted by frequent rain delays, Bumrah, too, struggled, failing to take any wickets.

Nehra, however, expects Bumrah to bring up his ‘A’ game in the series.

“I am hoping that you will be able to see his ‘A’ game in England. For me, results will definitely come. More than wickets, I will see how he’s bowling. I have not seen Bumrah really struggling, that his pace has come down, he’s not able to swing, because Bumrah is not only seam and hit the deck bowler, he can swing the ball also, we have seen that previously everywhere,” he added.

India have depth in their pace-bowling setup, with six pacers in the squad, and there were three obvious choices for Nehra, leading into the first Test- Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, and Jasprit Bumrah.

When asked about the bowling depth, Nehra said, “ So many people have asked me this question, and I am little surprised and amazed also, that we have to still discuss who will play.

“Of course, Ishant, Shami, and Bumrah will play. If you want a fourth fast bowler, then we are not there, only captain or coach, even the team management can tell, who has been bowling really well. You want to go with Umesh Yadav’s experience, his outswing skill, or do you want to go with Mohammed Siraj?”

India play five Tests in a span of little over four weeks, and when asked if squad rotation could be a factor, Nehra said he hoped not to see much rotation. Instead, he said he was eager to see stability in the Indian lineup.

“I hope not. I hope we don’t need to do that. With this Indian team, what I would like to see is more stability especially on a tour like England or tour like New Zealand, even in terms of batting point of view. Out of five Tests, there’s a possibility that in three Tests, you’re getting a wicket that’s not easy to bat.".

“In two Test matches if some senior player like Virat or Rohit gets out, and you’re behind in the series, you feel like, ‘Oh, they are not batting well and scoring runs,’, and you drop them, then what’s the backup? Dropping anyone is no solution,” added Nehra.

England will be missing their all-rounder Ben Stokes, who has taken a break from all cricket citing mental health, and Nehra admitted that it wasn't easy for players to be in a bubble environment for a prolonged time.

“It's not easy for the players to be in the bubble. And every player reacts differently. You should have people around you to help you," he said.

“And it's not that Ben Stokes is doing it every two months. These are very difficult circumstances. I feel people should be open about it if they are uncomfortable in a hotel room," Nehra added.

Watch India tour of England from August 4, LIVE on SONY SIX channels from 3.30 pm IST

Updated Date: August 03, 2021 15:57:37 IST

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