The last time India played a Test match without Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, it was in the 2012 Adelaide Test against Australia. At that time, Virat Kohli didn't have a Test hundred against his name.Cut to now, after a run of 98 Tests, Rahane and Pujara are not in the playing eleven while Kohli is on the verge of completing a century of Test appearances.For now, Rahane and Pujara are still in the reckoning as they try to get runs and rhythm back in Ranji Trophy. This leaves India with three contenders in Shreyas Iyer, Shubman Gill and Hanuma Vihari to fill the vacant spots in the batting order. It will not be an easy task to figure out who will be the closest to being the next dependable Test middle order batters, something which even Rohit Sharma conceded during the pre-match virtual press conference."Look, those guys (Rahane and Pujara) are big shoes to fill in, it's never easy for the guys who will come in. Even I don't know who is going to come in place of Rahane and Pujara. You have to wait till tomorrow morning for who's going to play. What Pujara and Rahane have done for this team, you can't put it out in words. There's years of hard work and playing 80-90 odd Tests respectively; all those overseas Test wins. India getting to No.1 in Test format, these guys helped us in that situation and have played a big part in that."
"There is no way that these guys would not be looked upon in the future, they will definitely be in part of our plans. That's for sure; it's just that, like the selector (Chetan Sharma) also said, it is just for now that we did not consider them. But there is no guarantee or there is nothing written about them not being considered for any of the series thereafter."Gill had a great start when he was impressive in the 2020/21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy. But a tough run and shin injuries meant Gill had to miss series against England in 2021 and South Africa later on. With him being the local lad, expect Gill to make a fresh start in middle-order. Same goes for Iyer, who had a fabulous introduction to Test cricket with 105 and 65 in first Test against New Zealand at Kanpur and Vihari, averaging 34.20 in 13 Tests, including a century and four fifties.
"Whenever there are changes in the squad, it's always a fresh start for the guys coming in. It's never easy but those guys who are going to replace these two guys, Pujara and Rahane, I mean those guys have done exceedingly well. Whenever those guys have gotten an opportunity, whether it's first-class cricket at home or in India A tours and the limited opportunities of playing Test cricket, we need to back these guys to come good for us."
"At times, you need to look forward and those guys have been waiting for a while now. Hopefully, if they get an opportunity, they can turn things around for us. It's not just about one or two games, I am looking at number of years for them playing for India and doing well for us."Sharma didn't give much hint into who will be edging whom in the three-way race for two spots in the middle order or in the potential toss-up between Gill and Mayank Agarwal for being his opening partner in the first Test against Sri Lanka on Friday."I am a captain; I'll prefer everyone to part of the team and have no preferences like that. We will see and analyze everything and then we will take a call. Mayank, Shubman, Vihari, Iyer, all are brilliant and they are the future of Indian cricket. I think they need to be given a solid run for them to excel in this particular format and it is important for us to do that.""It will start from the management to show enough support and backing. So hopefully, these guys with enough backing and support, not just from me, but also from you guys (media), will help."With Rahul Dravid, under whom Gill, Iyer and Vihari got chances with the India A side, now at the helm in the senior side, expect the team to take time in deciding the ideal middle-order batters who could potentially fill in for Rahane and Pujara in future.