By Niharika Raina
Mumbai, Jun 24 (IANS): One of the most crucial aspects for India gaining a 2-1 lead in the 2021 Test series against England before the fifth and final Test was rescheduled for July this year due to fears of Covid-19 outbreak in the visitors' camp was the runs from openers KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma.
Sharma was India's top run-getter, amassing 368 runs in four matches, including a fine 127 in the second innings of the fourth Test at The Oval apart from fifties at Lord's and Headingley. Rahul, on the other hand, made 315 runs with a stunning 129 in the first innings at Lord's, becoming one of the main architects for a famous victory.
But this time, while Sharma is returning to England with captaincy duties on his shoulders, Rahul is unavailable for the Edgbaston Test due to a right groin injury, which means that young Shubman Gill is in line to open the batting from July 1-5.
With India seeking a Test series win in England for the first time since 2007, former India cricketer-turned-commentator Sanjay Manjrekar believes batting will be a big challenge for the visitors at Edgbaston and called Rahul missing out as a "massive setback".
"It was just the remarkable effort of KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma at the top that saw India put up good enough scores to get the bowling make a match out of it and get that scoreline 2-1. This time around, with KL Rahul missing out, it's a massive setback for India. But there is hope in selection of Shreyas Iyer, if he gets a game and hopefully, Hanuma Vihari figures as well; Cheteshwar Pujara is making a comeback.
"India have the resources to fill that void. But when you look at India's seam bowling, there is quality there and quality options as well for them to choose from apart from two spinners. Batting, like last time, will be the big challenge," said Manjrekar in a virtual interaction organised by Sony Sports.
On day one of their lone four-day tour match against Leicestershire, the early dismissals of top six batters may cause some worries in the Indian camp, as per Manjrekar's views. After being watchful, Sharma fell while trying to hook the ball, Virat Kohli was trapped lbw after missing the ball while going for a flick, Hanuma Vihari got stuck before edging to first slip, Ravindra Jadeja was trapped plumb in front of stumps by an inswinger while Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer nicked behind, away from their bodies.
"Because it's a one-off Test match and India haven't played one in a long time in England as they are going there after one year. The team management and all of us know that the big challenge for India is to get minimum 300 runs in the first innings and hopefully, another big score in the second innings.
"Whatever the team composition is planned out, they will always be looking to address the batting issues and with KL Rahul missing being a huge blow for India, if you look at top five or six, you sort of worried about the batting as you don't have a situation where you have a number three, four, five, all in great form and recent form playing in foreign conditions," elaborated Manjrekar.
Manjrekar remarked that ace off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin could miss out on playing the Edgbaston Test if the Indian team is forced to pick between him or left-arm spin all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja. Last year, Ashwin didn't feature in all four Tests in England as India chose Jadeja as their lone spin option alongside four pacers.
"The team composition will reflect that although India would want to play four seam bowlers if the pitch and conditions are going to be conducive and might be tempted to have an extra batter in that team to go with three seamers and one spinner.
"But the choice of seamers will also depend on who can make a batting contribution and with a spinner as well, Jadeja might get the preference because of his ability to contribute more with the bat than Ashwin. There is quality bowling but not at the cost of batting depth/solidity in the team composition," added Manjrekar ahead of India's tour of England, which will be broadcast on Sony Sports Network from July 1 to 17.