The BCCI press advisory mentioned Rohit Sharma’s left hamstring injury and his subsequent withdrawal from the upcoming three-Test tour of South Africa, but it didn’t name a stop-gap vice-captain. Only last week, Rohit had replaced Ajinkya Rahane as Virat Kohli’s deputy in Tests. With the former now ruled out, the position has fallen vacant for an overseas tour.
“Vice-captain is not decided as of now,” said a BCCI functionary, offering a throwback to an era when the cricket board wasn’t in the habit of naming vice-captains publicly. At times it led to on-field confusion, like the 1974-75 Bangalore Test against the West Indies, when the then selection committee had informed Sunil Gavaskar that he would be Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi’s deputy but didn’t announce it in public.
The BCCI press release said: “Team India Test vice-captain Rohit Sharma sustained a left hamstring injury during his training session here in Mumbai yesterday. He has been ruled out of the upcoming 3-match Test series against South Africa. Priyank Panchal will replace Rohit Sharma in the Test squad.”
It is learnt that the BCCI medical team is assessing Rohit’s injury at the moment, to check whether it’s a hamstring strain or a tear. His scan report hasn’t been revealed yet. It’s not clear if Rohit would be fit for the three ODIs that would follow the Test series. India’s first Test in South Africa starts from December 26, while the first ODI is on January 19.
— BCCI (@BCCI) December 13, 2021
As regards to Test vice-captaincy, apparently, the selectors have two options; going back to Rahane for this series or promoting KL Rahul for the job. Rahul has already been named as Rohit’s deputy in limited-overs cricket, attesting to a clear succession plan.
The matter is a tad trickier in the longest format. Rahul returned to the Test fold during the England tour earlier this year after a gap of two years. And although he scored a half-century and a century in difficult conditions, he is yet to cement his place in Test cricket. The upcoming South Africa tour would be a big challenge for him.
Rahane had been Kohli’s long standing deputy, also extremely successful as a stand-in skipper; the series win in Australia last season with a depleted squad being his crowning glory. But after an elongated form slump (averaging 19.57 over the last 12 Tests), the middle-order batsman is walking a tightrope. “Rahane’s removal as vice-captain is a clear warning signal to him. As a senior member in the side, he needs to contribute more,” a top BCCI official told this paper last week.
Shreyas Iyer’s emergence has given the team management a solid middle-order option and if the 33-year-old regains his vice-captaincy, it could be difficult to leave him out of the playing eleven. However, three years ago in South Africa, Kohli and then head coach Ravi Shastri did exactly that for the first two Tests of the series.
Coming back to Rohit, the fresh turn of events would see India miss their most prolific Test batsman in this calendar year for the tour to a country, where a series victory hasn’t yet been achieved. Over the last 12 months, the opener has scored 906 runs in 11 Tests at an average of 47.68, including two hundreds. This will also force the team to rejig their opening combination, a change from the Rohit-KL Rahul pair that gelled well during India’s tour of England. With Shubman Gill also not included in the squad, owing to a shin injury, India’s opening choices are limited to Mayank Agarwal and Panchal, alongside Rahul.
Agarwal returned to form with a century in the second Test against New Zealand at Wankhede earlier this month, but his overseas record needs serious improvement. In nine away Tests, he has scored 455 runs at an average of 26.76. In seven home Tests, on the other hand, he has averaged 83.90, making 839 runs including four hundreds. Panchal, the Gujarat opener, has been rewarded for his consistency in domestic cricket, and he is fresh from leading India A in unofficial Tests in South Africa.
Meanwhile, injuries keep coming back to Rohit. He had sustained a hamstring injury during the 2020 IPL and wasn’t part of the original India squad that toured Australia last season. Later he joined the team to play the last two Tests. During the England tour also, Rohit had discomfort in his left knee during the fourth Test and probably would have missed the fifth Test if the game didn’t have a Covid-forced postponement. The recurrence of injury could also be a cause for concern for the BCCI and national selectors, now that Rohit is the white-ball captain and two World Cups – T20 World Cup next year and the 50-over World Cup in 2023 – are scheduled in the next two years. At 34 years of age, Rohit is a year older than Kohli.
The majority of the squad members have joined the camp in Mumbai yesterday. It is learnt that Rohit, along with Kohli and Rahane, has requested for home quarantine, which was granted by the BCCI.