Abhinav Mukund is young and can be one for the future © Getty Images
Abhinav Mukund is young and can be one for the future © Getty Images

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

Virender Sehwag’s nagging shoulder has forced him to go for immediate surgery, ruling him out not only from Delhi Daredevils’ remaining matches in the IPL but also from India’s entire tour to the West Indies. At this point, there is even a question mark over his regaining match fitness in time for the first Test against England at Lord’s starting on July 21.

 

Murali Vijay has been India’s back-up opener in Test matches since the home series against Australia in 2008. He was impressive on his Test debut, scoring 33 and 41. Since then he has been drafted into the playing eleven whenever Gautam Gambhir or Sehwag were out injured. Vijay’s maiden Test hundred came against Australia in October last year – a knock that booked him a seat on the plane to South Africa.

 

In South Africa he played in India’s victory at Durban, scoring 19 and nine. In the ODI series that followed he struggled to make an impact. However, he may still be included in the team as he has performed decently whenever called up to open in a Test.

 

A Test squad should normally contain three specialist openers. Assuming Murali Vijay makes the cut, he will join Gambhir as first-choice opener in the squad. The Indian think-tank need to find the third specialist opener for their touring party. Here are some names that may be discussed when the selectors sit down to pick the team.

 

Abhinav Mukund: In his 12 first-class matches this season, he has amassed 1211 runs at an average of 75.68. His ability to get the big scores is what has caught everybody’s eye as he has converted five of his eight fifty plus scores into hundreds – the highest being 232. In fact, Mukund has been consistent right since his first-class debut. He was selected for the second Test against Australia at Bangalore last year as a cover when Gambhir was injured. The call-up was a reward for the young man’s consistency and, if groomed well, he is one for the future.

 

Wasim Jaffer: Off late he has not opened the batting for Mumbai or the West Zone. But Jaffer is an experienced opener who scored 940 runs in 10 matches at an average of 78.33 this season. In the process he scored four hundreds and five fifties. The only thing that might go against him is his age. The Indian selectors may want to go for a younger man like Mukund, but even at 33, Jaffer is going strong in first-class cricket. He was successful on India’s last tours to the West Indies and England where he batted with grit. If he is picked, he would bring a lot of experience into the side as it would be his third tour to the two Test playing nations. The question is: Would the selectors pick a 33-year old or would they go for a youthful option?

 

Akash Chopra: Chopra moved from Delhi to play for Rajasthan and was pivotal in their successful campaign in the Ranji Trophy. In 11 first class matches this season, Chopra has scored 808 runs at an average of 62.15. He has scored three hundreds, out of which one was a triple. Like Jaffer he is also on the wrong side of thirty and it doesn’t look like the selectors may want to give him another go despite his numbers. The selectors may also want a dasher as a replacement for Sehwag than Chopra, who is solid at best.

 

Of the three, it looks like Abhinav Mukund has the best chance to make it to the Test squad. He is just 21 years old and has runs on his side. However, Jaffer may be useful because of his experience. When India toured the West Indies in 2006, he got a double hundred in the first Test and also scored important runs in the second Test at St Lucia. In England in 2007 he forged a good opening partnership with Dinesh Karthik. Chopra has the runs, but his chances looks bleak mainly because of his strike rate and age.

 

Mukund looks the best bet from India’s long-term interest, while Jaffer would be a good for short-term goals like winning the series.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)\