To retain Shreyas Iyer, or not to retain: that is the question. It was precisely what was posed right after India levelled the series at 1-1 in the second Test in Visakhapatnam. And it has remained among the cynosures in the buildup to the third Test against England in Rajkot amid his run of low scores in this series – 35, 13, 27, 29. The 29-year-old has now gone 13 consecutive innings without scoring even a fifty, where he averages only 17, and is yet to score his second Test century since his debut appearance in November 2021 – that’s a stretch of 23 innings.
However, the dilemma for the selection committee, which met on Friday to pick the squad for the last three Tests against England, was partially solved as it has been reported that Iyer complained of stiff back and groin pain to the team management after the second Test. But if the right-hander misses out, who will replace him in the playing XI for the 3rd Test, which begins on February 15 at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium?
KL Rahul, a likely swap
With Virat Kohli set to reportedly miss the final three matches against England as well, having earlier pulled out of the opening two games citing personal reasons, Rahul is set to reclaim the No. 4 spot. He had earlier missed the second Test after complaining of quadriceps pain after the opening game in Hyderabad. But having had enough time to recover since, Rahul will be an ideal option for the team management to take over the role and bring some experience to the line-up. He had scored a fluent 86 in the first innings of the Hyderabad game.
Is Cheteshwar Pujara a solution?
The veteran India batter has been in stunning form in the ongoing Ranji trophy season. On Friday, Cheteshwar Pujara scored his 62nd first-class hundred against Rajasthan in the Elite Group A match in Jaipur. It was his second triple-figure score in this edition of the red-ball tournament, where he is the third-highest run-getter, having amassed 648 runs in six matches, including two fifties.
It is least likely that India would go back Pujara, who last appeared in the WTC final against Australia in June 2023, having decided to invest in younger options throughout the ongoing Test Championship cycle. However, last year, when Iyer had incurred a back injury during the Border-Gavaskar series, India had relied on Ajinkya Rahane for the WTC final and the West Indies tour. Albeit not a proper comeback but India could go back to Pujara, a relied option, as a stop-gap solution.
What about Sarfaraz Khan?
In case the management fails to get a positive update on Rahul and considers the Pujara option as far-fetched, they can always test Sarfaraz for the role. He was added to the squad ahead of the second Test after Rahul and Ravindra Jadeja were ruled out. Heading into the India squad, Sarfaraz, who has been constantly knocking on the selectors’ doors, had scored 161 runs in 160 balls, laced with 18 fours and 5 sixes. He currently averages 69.85, with 14 centuries in 45 games in first-class cricket.