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Mayank Agarwal or Prithvi Shaw: Who will make it to the finish line?

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Vipassana, long-distance running and big runs: The Mayank Agarwal story (2:04)

How did a top-order batsman dropped by his state side in 2014 make it all the way to India's Test squad? (2:04)

People do weird things when they want something bad enough and India right now are absolutely desperate for overseas success. They believe that they are the best team in the world - with each player in advanced stages of no-negative-bones syndrome, how can they not? - but that is not enough. They need everyone else to say it as well. Or at the very least, the scorecard at the end of the Australia tour.

The coach Ravi Shastri has called for practice matches, a ritual they were so against in England and with good reasons, or at least it felt that way when Virat Kohli spelled it out in his slow, insistent voice (It's lack of quality opposition, stupid). Now, with the West Indies series playing the role of a crash test dummy, India are hoping to fix the other major problem that holds them back when they tour: the openers.

The selectors have played their hand, keeping faith in Prithvi Shaw and bringing on Mayank Agarwal. It's time for something new; perhaps even drastic. After all, it wasn't that long ago that Shaw admitted his technique isn't the most perfect. Then again, where did tight defence get M Vijay or Shikhar Dhawan?

So the rookies' place in the squad - one of them is bound to make their debut as opening partner to KL Rahul on Thursday - may just come down to the runs they've got, or more specifically the way in which they've got them. Agarwal began turning heads in the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy, when he racked up 1160 in 13 innings at a strike-rate of 68.80. He's always been a hard-hitter of the ball, particularly when he is able to flat-bat it right through the line. Shaw, by the way, has gone even quicker, scoring 76.69 per 100 balls even as he averages 56.72.

But tons of players have walloped domestic bowlers around. It doesn't guarantee that they'll be able to make the step up, let alone reprise such a dangerous style of cricket. It's going to be a gamble, and its inferences may not necessarily be iron-clad. The Rajkot pitch tends to be a pancake or a pothole, either assisting easy runs or offering terrifying spin. There are rumours that the team management has asked for extra bounce so that they can prepare for Australia, but is it even possible on this grand old dust bowl?

Whatever the conditions, the spotlight will be on Agarwal and Shaw. In the last 10 years, India have had only one instance of the openers putting on 100 runs or more while on tour in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa. And more often than not, the opposition's top two end up doing better. This trend needs to be reversed - and it quite possibly can be with the bowling attack as varied as the one Kohli has at his disposal - but the batsmen need to step up.

Agarwal and Shaw have shown that quality for India A, where, their first-class averages of 49.33 and 58 are coupled with strike-rates of 70.47 and 84.58. This ability they have to dominate bowling attacks, without compromising on their own productivity, seems to be what India want. Or at the very least, is too tempting to ignore. Imagine being 100 for 0 in the 30th over on a hot first day in Brisbane. It won't be easy getting there, not with Mitchell Starc fit again, but before they face the left-arm speed demon, at least one of these two will need to survive the mirror image: Shannon Gabriel, who will be pounding in at them in Rajkot. So will the rest of a very promising pace attack, according to West Indies coach Stuart Law.

India have finally decided to take their Ferra - eh, that's pushing it, let's say tricked-out Marutis - out on a test drive, right before the big race down under. Meanwhile, Vijay is purring back to form with a slew of fifty-plus scores in English county cricket and Dhawan already showed glimpses of an improved technique outside his off stump. Who's going to make it to the finish line? And who'll have enough gas left for the next race?

That's another criteria that makes Agarwal and Shaw's selections meaningful. It's been a while since India have let teenagers or 20-somethings into a Test XI, but they might have changed their minds after taking a long look at the rest of the world. England began with Mason Crane and found a beaut in Sam Curran. South Africa are already fitting Aiden Markram for the 10-year captaincy jacket. Australia go both ways - bringing in 31-year old Aaron Finch to make his debut not long after a 20-year old Matt Renshaw did the same. India brought Rishabh Pant in over the summer - admittedly because there weren't many other options - but now, when they did have other options, they've cast their eye towards the future, which is never be a bad thing.