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Padikkal in for Rahul at Rajkot

CHENNAI: When Devdutt Padikkal was taking apart the two Tamil Nadu left-arm spinners at the MA Chidambaram Stadium last Friday, little did he know the impact it would create. His 151 in the first innings — played with chairman of the men’s senior selection committee Ajit Agarkar watching from the stands — seems to have sealed the deal as the Karnataka batter earned his maiden India call-up for the third Test against England in Rajkot.

The 23-year-old will be replacing his fellow Karnataka teammate KL Rahul, who hasn’t fully recovered in time to make the cut for the Test that begins on Thursday. “Mr. Rahul has reached 90 per cent of match fitness and is progressing well under the supervision of the BCCI Medical Team. He will continue his recovery process at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru to be completely match-fit for the fourth and fifth Tests,” BCCI said in a press release.

Now, the innings which helped Karnataka secure first innings lead and crucial points, was not a one-off knock from Padikkal. After scoring over 450 runs in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the southpaw, who played in the unofficial Test between India A and South Africa A last year, kicked off the Ranji campaign with a 193 against Punjab before scoring another century against Goa (103) and England Lions (105 while playing for India A).

Another half-century for India A and the 151 for Karnataka meant Padikkal was called on the moment it was clear Rahul was not going to play. “To be honest, in the last couple of years, I wasn’t doing too well. My performances were naturally dipping because of that. But I was always confident enough that I’d be back scoring runs at some point. Now that I’m back in terms of my fitness and health completely, I’m really happy I’m back scoring runs as well,” Padikkal had told reporters at the venue after his century against TN.

Now, the left-hander has opened for India A and batted at No. 3 for Karnataka. But the only available slot is in the middle-order with Rahul not being available and Shreyas Iyer not considered. So, it’s likely that Sarfaraz Khan, who was with the squad in the second Test at Visakhapatnam, will get the nod. Also, this management prefers status quo over new entrants.

The Mumbaikar, a middle-order batter and an excellent player of spin, got a call-up after smashing 556, 982 and 928 runs in the past three Ranji seasons. In Rajkot, he is expected to join Patidar in an already inexperienced middle-order. It’s unlikely the management will drop Patidar, who was in the squad from the first game before making his debut in Vizag.

The interesting thing, though, is Sarfaraz might not be the only debutant in the third Test. With KS Bharat’s lack of impact with the bat, it should not come as a surprise should the hosts hand a Test cap to Dhruv Jurel. After the Vizag Test, head coach Rahul Dravid had said that while he was happy with Bharat’s glovework, his batting ‘could have been better’.

“Young players take time to develop at times,” he had said. “They grow at their own pace. As a coach, you want players to grab the opportunities. His keeping has been good, he will also agree that his batting could have been better.”

Jurel has four fifties in his last five first-class innings, with two of them coming for India A. Should Jurel get his cap, the three of them, forming the core of the middle,-order, will have played one Test between them. While it is not clear if they will go ahead with such a combination, especially when the series is 1-1, it is safe to say that they do not have many options at the moment. So they will have to make the most of what’s available.

India’s squad for Rajkot Test

Rohit Sharma (C), Jasprit Bumrah (VC), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, Rajat Patidar, Sarfaraz Khan, Dhruv Jurel (WK), KS Bharat (WK), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Washington Sundar, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohd. Siraj, Mukesh Kumar, Akash Deep, Devdutt Padikkal.

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