CHENNAI: He has already done it in limited-overs. And in Visakhapatnam, he will be the one who will most likely walk out with Mayank Agarwal to face the new ball. India are preparing to convert Rohit Sharma into a five-day opener, beginning with the three-Test Gandhi-Mandela series for the Freedom Trophy against South Africa. As the selection panel sits down in Mumbai on Thursday, KL Rahul’s immediate future hangs by the thread, with Punjab opener Shubman Gill lined up as his potential replacement.
India, sitting atop of the Test Championship table, will take on South Africa in the first match from October 2. With no overseas tours till New Zealand next February, the management is understood to be keen on testing Rohit as an opener.
This series and the two Tests against Bangladesh in November are being seen as an ideal ground to experiment with the Mumbaikar, who despite being in good form has not been able to make it to the Test XI.
Rohit, who scored five centuries in the World Cup, didn’t feature in Caribbean. The management persisted with Hanuma Vihari after his promising displays in England and Australia last year. With him vindicating the call and Ajinkya Rahane finding form, the middle-order looks set, making it impossible for Rohit to get a berth unless there’s an injury.
With Rahul unable to show any signs of consistency at the top, the team management is understood to have floated the idea to Rohit. With the latter expressing his willingness, the decision now lies with MSK Prasad & Co, as to whether India can make an opener out of Rohit like it happened with Virender Sehwag.
Line 2002, the story is similar now. India don’t have a reliable opening combination and their middle-order is packed. On the insistence of the captain and coach, he was made an opener, and the rest is history. Even Sourav Ganguly, who convinced Sehwag to open then, in his column recently called on Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri to try Rohit at the top.
While the chances of Rahul playing this series look unlikely, he is very much seen as the one to invest in. The management believes that him spending time in the domestic circuit will be of huge help to the opener, who at the moment seems to be unsure of his off-stump.
The Karnataka opener’s indecisiveness against the moving ball, particularly in the off-stump corridor, has seen him make only one century in two years. Since his 199 against England in December 2016, he scored his next hundred at the Oval in 2018, in an inconsequential fixture. Rahul failed to even touch fifty at home against West Indies, and in the subsequent tour of Australia and Caribbean.
With Agarwal showing promise and Prithvi Shaw being unavailable for selection, India will look at talent from India A. Twenty-year-old Gill is being seen as a potential candidate. With solid performances in both the domestic and A circuit, Bengal’s Abhimanyu Easwaran and Gujarat’s Priyank Panchal will also be part of discussions. Having seen his potential during his brief stint in New Zealand earlier this year, the team management believes Gill is the ideal candidate.
From the squad that played in Caribbean, India will have another change. All-rounder Hardik Pandya is ready for his inclusion. Making way for him is likely to be Wriddhiman Saha, as two wicketkeepers in a squad for a home series is a luxury. Else, selectors may have to drop a pacer, with Umesh Yadav being the likely one to get the axe.