I don’t think there has ever been as much of a selection dilemma before a Test match as we are seeing now before the Day-Night Test in Adelaide.
With Rohit Sharma unavailable, there are as many as three contenders for his opener’s position: Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill and KL Rahul.
Let’s take Shaw first. He clearly looks out of form, and I’m making this assessment while being careful not to read too much into his IPL performances. The two formats are so different that its almost impossible to predict how one will do in Tests based on T20 form.
It looks like Shaw is behind Gill in the pecking order at the moment, but let me remind you of Shaw’s Test performances before we discard him. He has played only four Tests, but in those he has scored two 50s and a hundred. In the last Test he played as an opener in New Zealand, he scored a 50 even as the Indian batting capitulated in the swinging conditions. Shaw can surprise you as a player and this record, despite being of small sample size, should count for something.
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This is where I see a recency bias at work–”a greater importance given to the most recent event”, to use a simple definition of the phrase.
Shaw failed in the warm-up games, as well as in the IPL. The IPL should not count, but it is the most recent event, and unless Virat Kohli springs a surprise, Shaw is likely to sit out. Should a person with an impressive Test record and overseas 50 in his last Test be dropped without playing him one more Test?
This recency bias has also influenced the fate of Rishabh Pant and Rahul, who is back in contention as opener after failing in five consecutive Test series. He had a good IPL, which earned him a call.
This is the crux of what makes me uncomfortable: Shouldn’t success and failures in actual Tests matter more for Test selection?
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Pant seems to have his nose ahead of Wriddhiman Saha for the first Test, his case having become really strong after a 100 in the warm up game. But look closely at the innings and you see that 65 of his 103 runs came against an uncapped leg spinner and a left arm spinner. We can be certain he is not going to get a single delivery of that kind in the first Test or, for that matter, the whole series.
Pant has an impressive overall Test record, two hundreds overseas and two 90s at home. Though a Test century is a Test century, none of those runs came in a pressure situation. On the other hand, here’s the bombshell: Pant has failed in 18 of his 22 Test innings.
Better keeper for Tests
Saha is, without argument, a far better keeper, and we know that the match will have a lot of fast bowling and swing. In Tests, unlike in T20s and ODIs, wicketkeeping is a vital role, and it’s wise to have a keeper-batsman than a batsman-keeper.
My motto as player, captain and now observer has been to stick to the long term winning principles of cricket–picking the best you have in their primary role is the way to go. And recent Test performance as the selection criteria even if chronologically, they came months back.
If I was in a selection meeting, I would make a case for Shaw’s inclusion (with a very short rope) but concede to the inclusion of Gill if that was what all my fellow selectors wanted. Quite a few trained eyes think he is very special and they aren’t wrong.