Rahul has gone 12 Test innings without a 50-plus score and struggled in the recent tour of West Indies where India won both the matches to top the World Test Championship table.
Former captain Sourav Ganguly was among those who felt Rohit, who smashed a record five hundreds at the 50-overs World Cup in England and finished as the tournament’s top scorer, should partner Mayank Agarwal at the top of the order.
“We want to give Rohit Sharma an opportunity to open the innings in Tests,” chief selector MSK Prasad said after naming the 15-member squad.
Prithvi Shaw would have been Agarwal’s automatic partner but the 19-year-old is currently serving a doping ban.
The only player in the world with three double hundreds in one-day internationals, Rohit averages nearly 40 in tests batting in the middle order.
The 32-year-old has struggled to replicate his limited-overs heroics in the 27 Tests he has played so far and must reinvent himself as an opener in the long form as well.
Punjab top order batsman Shubman Gill got his maiden Test call-up, while the selectors opted for two wicketkeepers in Rishabh Pant and Wriddhiman Saha.
Spin all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, who was preferred ahead of Ravichandran Ashwin in both the Tests in West Indies, has been retained in the squad along with the off-spinner with left-armer Kuldeep Yadav as the third slow bowling option.
Virat Kohli and his team face South Africa in the first Test at Visakhapatnam from Oct 2. Pune and Ranchi host the other two matches.