Vijay Shankar and Shubman Gill have been called up to replace the suspended Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul in the Indian team. While Shankar will join the team playing a ODI series in Australia, Gill will join the team in the tour of New Zealand, where India will play five ODIs and three T20Is starting from January 23. 

Pandya and Rahul had been downright uncouth in their comments about women on the popular television show Koffee with Karan. The comments created a nationwide furore and rightly so, and the BCCI had to step in and initiate disciplinary action. However, booting the duo out of the World Cup, as is the talk now, would be too harsh a punishment. But let's keep that debate for another time. Let's consider, instead, if the two replacements were the best options before the BCCI.  

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There would be no dispute over the selection of Gill. The young Punjab batsman proved himself in the Under-19 World Cup last year. India won the prestigious event for the fourth time and they could thank Gill in a big way. His sublime hundred against arch-rivals Pakistan in the semi-final would be talked about for many years to come. 

In the Indian Premier League (IPL), he impressed for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). He is just 19-years-old and, along with Prithvi Shaw, is widely tipped to be one of the mainstays of the Indian batting for many years to come across formats. It was a great decision to fast-track him into the senior team. The selectors had to do it sooner or later. Tours of Australia and New Zealand at the very start of his international career will go a long way in toughening him up, much the same way that the Pakistan and England tours did to Sachin Tendulkar.  

However, the choice of Shankar is problematic. He is remembered largely for getting stuck at the eleventh hour in the Nidahas Trophy final against Bangladesh. With India were 132/4 at the start of the 18th over, needing 35 runs off a possible 18 balls. In this day and age of T20 cricket, that is an eminently gettable target. 

But then Shankar turned into a strokeless wonder. Four deliveries from the crafty Mustafizur Rahman and four misses. Only a legbye came off that crucial over and what's worse Manish Pandey departed, desperately trying to up the ante. At the end of that over, India needed 34 runs off a mere 12 balls. The equation became much. much difficult. It was only Dinesh Karthik's pyrotechnics that saved the day for India, but only just. Karthik slammed 29 off eight balls, including a last-ball six and India won by the skin of their teeth.           

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Shankar was named Man of the Match in the group stage against Bangladesh for bowling figures of 4/32. He had some good scores in the Ranji Trophy as well. But the Nidahas final showed that he is yet to get accustomed to the pressure of international cricket. Therefore 'giving him a chance' on a hard tour of Australia, when the team is trailing and looking to win two matches on the trot to win the series, is not a judicious call.

The ODI format may give him more time to settle down, but after his Nidahas final flop show, à la Yuvraj Singh's meltdown in the 2014 World T20 final, it would have been ideal if he was tested in the home series against West Indies. 

Is he the best replacement for Pandya? No. Pandya's hitting prowess is proved beyond contention. His bowling is handy too. Who could have been Pandya's replacement for the allrounder's position then? Kamlesh Nagarkoti, if fit, should have been the first choice. He was another star of India's U-19 World Cup win in 2018, claiming six wickets in nine matches at an average of 16.33 and consistently clocking 140 kmph. 

Another option could have been Mohit Sharma, who had a fine World Cup 2015, played also in Australia-New Zealand, and is known as a gutsy cricketer in the IPL. Or they could dispense with the need for a pace-bowling all-rounder and make do with Kedar Jadhav and/or Ravindra Jadeja assuming dual roles. In that case, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Khaleel Ahmed/Mohammed Siraj would be the three quicks in the eleven. India could have done with another frontline pacer in the line-up, with both Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav not there. India's batting is already packed till No 7 to worry too much.