I don’t think there was ever a selection dilemma before a Test match as we are now seeing before the Day-Night Test in Adelaide.
With Rohit Sharma unavailable, there are up to three contenders for his opening position: Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill and KL Rahul.
Let’s take Shaw first. It clearly looks out of shape and I am making this assessment being careful not to read too much into its IPL performance. The two formats are so different that it is almost impossible to predict how this will be done in tests based on the T20 module.
It looks like Shaw is behind Gill in hierarchical order at the moment, but let me remind you of Shaw’s Test’s performance before you discard it. He only played four tests, but in those he scored two fifties and one hundred. In the last test he played as a starter in New Zealand, he scored a 50 even if the Indian in batting capitulated in swing conditions. Shaw can surprise you as a player and this record, despite being small in size, should count for something.
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This is where I see a recency bias at work – “greater importance given to the most recent event”, to use a simple definition of the sentence.
Shaw failed in the warm-up games, as well as the IPL. The IPL shouldn’t count, but it’s the most recent event, and unless Virat Kohli gets a surprise, Shaw is likely to be left out. Should a person with an impressive Test record and 50 overseas on his last Test be dropped without having played him another Test?
This bias to recency also affected the fate of Rishabh Pant and Rahul, who returned to contention as an opener after failing 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 failure in actual testing be more important to test selection?
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Pant seems to have his nose ahead of Wriddhiman Saha for the first test, his case got really strong after a 100 in the warm-up game. But look closely at the innings and see that 65 of his 103 runs went against an uncovered leg spinner and a left arm spinner. We can be sure that he will not get a single delivery of that type in the first Test or, for that matter, in the entire series.
Pant has an impressive overall test record, two hundred overseas and two 90s at home. Although a century of testing is a century of testing, none of these races have come under pressure. On the other hand, here’s the bombshell: Pant has failed in 18 of his 22 test innings.
Best keeper for testing
Saha is, without question, a far better goalkeeper, and we know the game will have a lot of bowling and quick swings. In testing, unlike T20s and ODI, wicketkeeping is a key role and it is wise to have a keeper-hitter rather than a hitter-keeper.
My motto as a player, captain and now observer has been to stick to the long-term winning principles of cricket: choosing the best you have in their primary role is the way to go. And recent Test performance as selection criteria, albeit chronologically, has been back for months.
If I were in a selection meeting, I would defend Shaw’s inclusion (with a very short string) but I would admit Gill’s inclusion if that was what all my fellow selectors wanted. Many trained eyes think it is very special and they are not wrong.