India have handed Navdeep Saini a Test debut and brought Rohit Sharma back as opener and vice-captain for the Sydney Test starting Thursday. Saini replaced the injured Umesh Yadav, and Rohit took the place of Mayank Agarwal. There were no other changes to the XI that won the MCG Test and levelled the series 1-1.
Rohit last played a Test for India in November 2019, in a season where he made the transition from the middle order to the top. His last Test away from home was the Boxing Day game in Melbourne in 2018 following which he left the tour early for the birth of his child. Later next year, he came back as an opener, scoring three quick hundreds in five home Tests before injuries ruled him out of the Test series in New Zealand and the first two matches of the ongoing series.
With regular captain Virat Kohli missing, the Indian selectors named Rohit as the vice-captain of the team, replacing Cheteshwar Pujara. R Ashwin was the other experienced member in the side who might have had claims to the post.
"We all are really excited to have him back," captain Ajinkya Rahane said of Rohit. "His experience at the highest level matters a lot. He is batting really well in the nets. He has had seven nets sessions. He came to Melbourne, and started his practice straightaway after the Test got over. He has been batting really well. The last couple of series he has batted as an opener, so you will definitely see Rohit at the top [of the order]."
The man Rohit replaced, Agarwal, debuted at a time of crisis, in the Boxing Day Test of 2018-19. He averages 47.85 in a 13-Test career, but his last few scores - in Australia and new Zealand - have been 34, 58, 7, 3, 17, 9, 0, 5. He has averaged 7.75 in this series.
That India would have to hand out a debut to another fast bowler was apparent the moment it was ascertained Umesh Yadav wouldn't be available for the last two Tests after hobbling off in the second innings of the MCG Test. The 28-year-old debutant Saini has played 46 first-class games for 128 wickets at an average of 28.46. He plays domestic cricket for Delhi, but 14 of his 46 matches have been played for India A, for whom he has taken 34 wickets at 34.35.
India XI for Sydney Test: 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Ajinkya Rahane (capt), 5 Hanuma Vihari, 6 Rishabh Pant (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Jasprit Bumrah, 10 Navdeep Saini, 11 Mohammed Siraj