In less than two weeks, India have lost a second first XI player. This time, a fractured big toe in the left foot has ruled Vijay Shankar out of the remainder of India's campaign at the World Cup. Mayank Agarwal is set to fly out as his replacement and will join the squad later this week.
Vijay became the second to return home from the World Cup after Shikhar Dhawan was ruled out on June 18 because of a fractured left thumb. Two days later, Vijay's left toe washit by a yorker from Jasprit Bumrah during a training session in the lead up to the match against Afghanistan. Vijay did go on to play that match and the next one, but sat out of the contest against England on Sunday, which India lost by 31 runs, their first defeat in seven outings in the tournament.
India have two more matches remaining in the group phase, against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka on July 2 and July 6 respectively, and need to win at least one to guarantee their semi-final spot.
Rishabh Pant replaced Vijay in the XI against England. Vijay had not taken part in the optional training on Saturday, but was present at the ground on match day and gave throwdowns to Kohli and Co.
This morning the BCCI sent out a statement saying Vijay would need three weeks to recover. Vijay "was struck on the left big toe whilst batting in the nets on June 19 in Southampton. He was able to play in an unrestricted manner in the following two matches against Afghanistan and West Indies. Following the match on June 27, the condition of his toe worsened and a CT scan showed he sustained a non-displaced fracture of the left big toe. The condition will require a minimum of three weeks to heal. The injury rules him out of the ongoing World Cup," the statement said.
After making a good impression during the limited-overs series at the beginning of this year in Australia and New Zealand, followed by the home series against Australia in March, Vijay had jumped the queue to be part of the India's 15-man World Cup squad, which was announced in April. MSK Prasad, India's chairman of selectors, had said Vijay was an ideal choice because he was a three-dimensional cricketer: a good batsman, ideal for the No. 4 slot, a handy part-time seamer in helpful conditions, and a very good fielder.
The selectors still faced a fair bit of criticism, especially for leaving out Rishabh Pant, who has made a big impression in a still-young career with his explosive batting not just in T20 cricket, but also in Test cricket, since his debut in England last summer. Pant was subsequently called in as Dhawan's replacement, and stands to benefit from Vijay's exit. Pant played at No. 4 against England and made a 29-ball 32.
Sanjay Bangar, India's assistant coach, confirmed that Pant would be persisted with at that position over the rest of the tournament because he is a left-hander, and provides a good balance to the middle order. "He had a decent innings," Bangar said during a media briefing on Sunday. "He got 32. And he got a couple of good shots, got a partnership going. Yes, we are going to persist with Rishabh."
Agarwal's selection, meanwhile, might come as a surprise to many. Firstly because he was not even part of the five-man list of standbys announced when the World Cup 15 was announced. Along with Pant, the only other batsman who was part of that was Ambati Rayudu.
Also, Agarwal has never played for India in limited-overs cricket. However, the selectors were impressed by Agarwal's batting during the IPL, where he played in the middle-order for Kings XI Punjab and often managed to create an impact immediately. He was the third-highest run-getter for Kings XI, and scored his 332 runs at a strike rate of 141.88.
Agarwal also has been a prolific List A batsman for his home state Karnataka, averaging 47.95 in 44 innings, having aggregated 2110 runs that include six hundreds and 10 half-centuries. He had a prolific run in England with the India A side last year, where he made 287 runs in four one-day innings at an average of 71.75 and strike rate of 105.90.
Agarwal's selection could also mean the Indian team management wanted a back-up opener after KL Rahul - who moved to the top after Dhawan went out - missed a large part of the England innings after hurting his hip while attempting a catch on the boundary. In the statement, the BCCI said that the team management had asked the selectors for a "suitable top-order batsman" as Vijay's replacement. Rahul did come out to bat in the chase against England, but made a nine-ball duck. Bangar indicated that Rahul was fit, but having a third opener in Agarwal might be a precautionary measure.
Although uncapped in the shorter formats, Agarwal made his Test debut in Melbourne in December last year after being called up as a replacement for the injured Prithvi Shaw. Agarwal was to undergo a fitness assessment this week before flying out to the Caribbean with the India A team for five one-dayers and the third four-day match of the tour.