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Gill as opener, Pant as keeper - Gavaskar, Border give their views on India's XI

The former players, after whom the trophy is named, feel Prithvi Shaw is playing 'too many' shots at the start

Varun Shetty
Varun Shetty
Shubman Gill has got both Sunil Gavaskar and Allan Border's backing to open alongside Mayank Agarwal during India's Test series against Australia. Previewing the series named after them, the first men to 10,000 Test runs discussed Gill's and Prithvi Shaw's prospects of sealing a place in the Indian line-up, with a consensus that Shaw's aggressive style was currently going against him.
"I think Shubman Gill should open with Mayank for the first Test match because he's shown good form," Gavaskar said. "Allan Border was there for the games [practice games], [and] was very impressed with what he saw from Shubman Gill. So I would imagine that he should open with Mayank Agarwal for the first Test."
Should Gill be picked, he would be making a Test debut and displacing Shaw, who was the incumbent opener alongside Mayank Agarwal in India's last Test series in New Zealand. In the two warm-up games, Gill's scores - 0, 29, 43, 65 - got progressively better while Shaw had a more patchy run with scores of 0, 19, 40, and 3. Shaw has had a torrid run of form coming into this tour including in IPL 2020, with his duck in the first practice game being his fourth in his last seven innings across formats.
"I've been in Sydney the last couple of days, watching the Indian team against Australia A. Gee, I was impressed with Gill," said Border. "I really think he's got something about him, his technique. I know he's young so he can play a few rash shots here and there, but he looks a seriously good player, this kid. He would be my pick out of the guys I saw.
"I know you guys [rate] Shaw but it seems to me like he plays a shot-a-ball. Against the new ball, it looks good on flat tracks, but in Australia, you've got to be a little bit more watchful about your shot selection. He just seems a bit loose outside the off stump for me. If I'm the Indian selector, I'm looking very close at young Gill."
Shaw has currently played in four Tests since his debut in October 2018, and averages 55.83. He has, however, appeared low on confidence since cricket resumed this year and Gavaskar suggested he needed to work on his defence.
"I do agree with AB [Allan Border] on that," Gavaskar said. "I think he's got to spend a little more time assessing his batting. Because as an opening batsman, you've got to give yourself time to see what the pitch is doing, see what the bowlers are doing. And trying to bat the way he's batting at the moment is not going to make him a consistent player. Yes, he's going to make runs once in a while - [but] he's got to tighten up his defence. I agree with AB that he plays far too many shots at the start of the innings."
As far as India's other opener is concerned, Agarwal looks set to hold onto his spot, earned on the back of a strong debut during India's successful last tour of Australia. Agarwal had a stellar IPL season earlier this year, and after a couple of unconverted starts in the ODI series, made a fifty in the last practice match.
"My player to watch from India will be Agarwal, because he came to Australia for the last couple of Test matches two years ago and he actually showed the way," Gavaskar said. "Because till then India had not got a start. But he batted brilliantly, he actually showed how to tackle Nathan Lyon because he was stepping down the pitch, hitting him straight. The freshness of youth, you could say.
"Since then, he's only become better. He's gone from strength to strength. Look at the season he had last year, where he scored a double hundred against South Africa. He got back-to-back double hundreds if I'm not mistaken [two double-centuries in three matches]. So he's the guy I really am looking forward to in this series."
On another much vaunted topic - the Indian wicketkeeper debate - Gavaskar said he expected India to pick Rishabh Pant over Wriddhiman Saha through this series. Pant has been India's preferred option in overseas Tests, even when Saha has previously been available, and Gavaskar said that and a couple of other factors would work in his favour. Not least his blistering hundred against Australia A in the second practice game.
"It's going to be a tough one for the selection committee because Rishabh played in all the four Test matches during India's [last] tour and he also got a hundred. And he seemed to have got under the skin of some of the Australian players with his chirping behind the stumps," Gavaskar said. "So I guess the team would probably look to have him. And of course, when you've just come off a hundred, a few days earlier, you would be the choice I think."
The popular opinion on who the better wicketkeeper is has long been skewed in Saha's direction, and the experienced wicketkeeper was brought straight back into the Indian team during when he returned from a long injury lay-off last year. That was, however, during India's home season, where his skill against spinners is considered vastly superior. When India went to New Zealand, Pant was back in the team.
"When you're playing on pitches where the wicketkeeper has to stand up to the stumps, where the ball turns around a bit, that's when you tend to take your best wicketkeeper - in which case, Wriddhiman Saha would be the obvious choice," Gavaskar said. "But here, because India will be having pacers, you can stand behind. You get that much more time, about 15 yards behind the stumps. My feeling is they'll go for that.
"Also, because at the top of the order the Indians are a little bit shaky, they won't know who to go with. [...] So with the uncertainty, they'd like to strengthen their batting and I think Rishabh Pant will play. But I hope he plays at six because then that will allow you to pick five bowlers to get 20 wickets."
Watch Border-Gavaskar test series from December 17, 8:30 am IST onwards, Live and Exclusive only on Sony Six, Sony Ten 1 and Sony Ten 3 (Hindi) channels

Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo