When Shikhar Dhawan was ruled out of the ODI series against New Zealand, Mayank Agarwal was expected to be his replacement. With his consistent performances, Agarwal has made it up in the pecking order of openers. However, the Indian selectors, not for the first time, dropped in a surprise as they named Prithvi Shaw as Dhawan's replacement for the upcoming ODI series against New Zealand.
After a broken thumb ended Dhawan’s World Cup early last year, it was Agarwal who had replaced him in the squad, even though he was an uncapped player in international white-ball cricket at that stage.
Agarwal then took Dhawan’s place in the ODI squad for the series against West Indies as well, when the latter was unavailable for selection due to an injury he sustained in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
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Agarwal didn’t get a match to play either in the World Cup or in the series against West Indies, there was no question of him losing his spot in the pecking order.
So,how fair is Shaw's selection statistically, technically and logically?
Statistically, it is difficult to compare Shaw and Agarwal because the latter was mostly on national duty with the Indian Test team during last year's domestic white ball season. He could only play a couple of games for Karnataka in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
However, in the final match of the tournament, Agarwal played a match winning knock batting at no. 3. He scored 69 runs off 55 balls with 7 fours and 3 sixes to chase down the target set by Tamil Nadu and help his side clinch the trophy.
Shaw was handed a eight-month suspension by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) last year and was hence unable to to take in the Vijay Hazare trophy. However, he returned to action during the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy and batted as if he had never been away from the game.
The 20-year old scored 177 runs in just 4 games, playing for Mumbai, at an average of 44.25 and a strike rate of 173.52, with the highest score of 64.
With India’s Test match season over, both Agarwal and Shaw were picked in the India A squad for the unofficial ODI series against New Zealand A. It was Shaw’s performance in New Zealand recently which got him a nod ahead of Agarwal.
Shaw scored 150 runs off just 100 balls in one of the warm up games, before playing another fluent knock of 48 in the first unofficial ODI on Wednesday.
Let’s talk about Shaw’s selection on the technical grounds. Why did the selectors consider him a better replacement for Dhawan than Agarwal?
Generally, KL Rahul is the third choice opener for India in white-ball cricket and whenever one of the two first-choice openers isn’t available, he opens the batting.
However, given Rahul’s performance in the middle order in the recent ODI series against Australia, the Indian team management is now probably looking to persist with him at no. 5.
With Rahul being looked at as a middle order batsman now, the Indian selectors would perhaps be looking for an opener who can score freely in the first power-play.
Rohit Sharma usually likes to take time upfront. This is why Dhawan complements him as he goes after the bowling straightaway, allowing Rohit time to get his eyes in.
The selectors wanted someone who could take the attack to the bowlers from the word go, rather than somebody like Agarwal who also bats at the same tempo as Rohit.
Shaw is a player pretty much in the mould of Dhawan and the former Indian opener Virender Sehwag. While he is good at playing lofted shots, his strongest forte is his ability to find the gaps square of the wicket on the off-side.
And, he never shies away from playing his shots, whatever the conditions and the situation might be. His strike rate is more than run-a-ball most of the time.
It can be said that Shaw has got the skill-set to be a like-for-like replacement for Dhawan. But there are a few questions which need to be answered to justify Shaw’s selection over Agarwal logically.
First of all, has Shaw really earned his place in the Indian squad after serving his ban? He clearly hasn’t played a lot of domestic cricket since his comeback.
Second, is it right to pick Shaw just on the basis of one big hundred in the warm-up game against New Zealand A?
And third, how correct is it to drop a player down the pecking order without giving him an opportunity to showcase his skills (Agarwal in this case)?
To come up with satisfying answers of theese three questions seems impossible at this stage, which in some sense doesn’t justify Shaw’s selection. But, it does make some sense statistically and technically and the Indian fans would hope that Shaw repays the faith of the Indian selectors.