India's St Lucia Test batting selection riddle

Vijay is fit so we have to pick two out of three - Kohli (1:11)

Virat Kohli talks about the happy headache India face regarding the selection of two openers from M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul for the third Test (1:11)

On Sunday night, Cheteshwar Pujara posted a group selfie on Instagram. In it, sharing a dinner table, were himself, Shikhar Dhawan, M Vijay and KL Rahul.

"When we r together," Pujara captioned it, "we make the most out of our time."

On Tuesday morning, the four of them will not be together on the team sheet Virat Kohli hands to the match referee. Three will line up at the top of India's batting order. The fourth will find a place near the bottom of the list, among the substitutes.

"Cricket is a very uncertain game at times," Kohli said when he was asked the inevitable question on Monday. "Injuries are not in anyone's hands. Even in the IPL, I remember a game where Mandeep Singh was fit and set to play. While I was at the toss he split his webbing. KL [Rahul] got a chance and he hasn't looked back since. We conveyed to Mandeep that unfortunately it was an injury and nothing can be done about that.

"We need to look at the balance of the side. Good thing is all three openers are playing well. Bad thing is that you can only choose two between three. That is a call we need to take as management. We'll sit down today and do that. These things are not in your control, getting injured when playing well. That's why they say injuries can really upset people and bring them down. The good thing is Vijay has been in a good headspace. He's back to the nets and back to fielding. We'll take a call on that. We still have to discuss that."

Vijay is the equivalent of Mandeep in this situation. He injured his thumb during the first Test, and missed the second. Rahul replaced him and scored 158.

But that is where the comparison ends. Mandeep and Rahul were more or less equal contenders for a spot in Royal Challengers Bangalore's line-up in that match against Gujarat Lions. Both were young and mostly unproven T20 talents hoping to establish themselves. One got injured, the other played in his stead, and made the most of his opportunity. It must not have been too difficult for Kohli to tell a fit-again Mandeep he would have to wait a little longer.

Vijay's case is entirely different. Since the start of India's tour of England in 2014, he has the best average among all of India's Test batsmen. He has made hundreds in England, Australia and Bangladesh, and an important second-innings 82 in Sri Lanka, where he missed two out of three Tests with injury. In the home series against South Africa in November-December 2015, India's last Test assignment before this West Indies tour, Vijay was India's second-highest run-getter on pitches that were square turners by and large.

You can't easily leave out a batsman of that quality, with those numbers behind him, because he got injured and his replacement made a hundred. Kohli, of course, hadn't actually said Vijay would sit out the St Lucia Test. He said India would still need to take a call on the situation. Going by what he said, though, it seems one of the three openers - Vijay, Rahul and Dhawan - will miss out, while Pujara keeps his place at No. 3.

On Monday, anyone looking for clues in India's training session at the Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium will have gone back disappointed. Vijay and Pujara were the first two batsmen in the nets, and they each spent more than half an hour batting there. Dhawan and Rahul were the next two batsmen in - they had been having slip-catching practice while Vijay and Pujara batted. There was no way to tell which of the four would miss out.

Pujara has had a strange series so far, looking in good defensive shape in both innings he has played. He has spent a lot of time in the middle - helping India win a couple of crucial sessions before falling against the run of play - without being able to convert his starts into substantial scores.

Ordinarily, without the intense competition among the openers, Pujara's place would probably not have come under question just yet. India may have simply viewed it as a case of a player being on the verge of a big score. If they do retain Pujara, this may well be one reason for doing so. The other, obvious reason would be that leaving him out would force one of the openers to bat at No. 3. While it's only one step down the batting order, it's still a different role.

If Pujara keeps his place, he will be under pressure to show he can overcome his tendency to get out after making promising starts, which has afflicted him more or less since that 2014 England tour. Dhawan too will be under pressure. He has made one substantial score in this series - 84 in Antigua - and could therefore consider himself unlucky if he happens to be the batsman dropped. But in his last 10 Test innings, including that 84, he has only scored 289 runs at an average of 32.11.

Before that stretch of iffy form, Dhawan had scored back-to-back hundreds against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He may not have had the opportunity to play those knocks had Rahul not been ruled out of the series with dengue.

Just over a year later, virtually the same scenario has played out all over again, with the same cast and the roles swapped around.