India’s squad announcement for the upcoming Australia tour threw up multiple points to mull over – from the absence of a few established names to the inclusion of new faces in the Test and T20I setups. Aadya Sharma takes stock of the situation.
The much-awaited announcement of India’s squads for the tour to Australia, apart from acting as BCCI’s official confirmation of sorts, broke the IPL’s month-long monopoly on the news cycle, giving Indian cricket fans something new to talk about. The tour, reportedly set to begin in late November, will signal India’s return to international cricket following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The squads for the Test, ODI and T20I legs, announced bang in the middle of an IPL game, threw open several points of discussion: a few old, long-standing topics of debate and a couple of new takeaways.
KL Rahul – India’s new white-ball vice-captain
Perhaps one of the most talked-about aspects of the announcement is KL Rahul’s ascension to ODI and T20I vice-captaincy. Rahul, currently the leading run-getter in IPL 2020, has been in-and-out of India’s ODI setup for the past few years, failing to break the prolific opening pairing of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, and managing paltry returns when slotted into the middle order.
Now, his promotion to vice-captaincy in the absence of Rohit seems to be a signal-of-sorts that he’s here to stay, especially with India looking for their next wicketkeeper-batsman following MS Dhoni’s retirement. A Test recall might resuscitate his red-ball career too, although a tussle for the opening spots with Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill will not make his re-entry as straightforward.
— Wisden India (@WisdenIndia) October 26, 2020
Rohit Sharma’s injury – a blessing in disguise?
When Rohit was sidelined for Mumbai Indians with a hamstring strain, few could have thought that the rehabilitation could run well into the Australia tour. A BCCI statement said that their medical team will “continue to monitor the progress [of his injury]”, and it’s unclear yet if he’s ruled out of IPL 2020. Mumbai Indians further added fuel to fire by posting a picture of Rohit seemingly returning for a training session.
— Mumbai Indians (@mipaltan) October 26, 2020
His absence from the white-ball squads could prove to be a blessing in disguise for Mayank Agarwal and Shubman Gill, who’ve both made their ODI debuts, but haven’t been able to snatch a permanent spot due to heavy competition for the opening spots.
It also, potentially, helps India have backup options ready for the T20I team. While Dhawan has been in prime form in this IPL, his sedate strike-rate in T20Is has often been debated, which could give the management a chance to try out Agarwal alongside Rahul.
Can Sanju Samson make his latest comeback count?
Samson has blown hot-and-cold in the IPL thus far, his form wearing out after a string of blistering knocks, before picking up steam again. It’s the perfect representation of his playing career so far, which has been fraught with inconsistency, leaving him on the cusp of India selection time and again, and with just four T20I appearances in five years.
The Australia tour marks his return to the set-up, and although he looks set to be a backup wicketkeeper to KL Rahul in T20Is, the absence of Rishabh Pant from the white-ball squads ensures that Samson is their go-to man if Rahul needs support. Whether he gets a game to prove himself remains to be seen.
Rishabh Pant – drifting out of T20 World Cup plans?
The exclusion of Pant from both the T20I and ODI squads clears the path for Rahul to make a case as first-choice wicketkeeper, diffusing long-standing questions over India’s immediate replacement for Dhoni. Pant has been a subject of recent discussions for two reasons – one for his thin returns in IPL 2020 so far (his highest score in eight games is 38), and another for his fitness levels. Pant missed out on a few games for Delhi Capitals with a hamstring injury, while his weight has reportedly been called into question too.
The roadmap which was set 4 #Rishabh ‘s future in d press conference by d previous Chief selector MSK Prasad has hit a big road block. Why would he felt d need 2 say it publicly dat time, denying and demoralising all d others wicketkeepers who aims 2 play 4 Indian team.
— MANOJ TIWARY (@tiwarymanoj) October 26, 2020
Pant’s white-ball snub could be a clear indication that the team is ready to look beyond him – instead of keeping both Rahul and Pant in the team, they could rather bolster the middle order with a specialist batsman. With Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer both in the ODI and T20I squads, the competition is hotting up for Pant ahead of the T20 World Cup.
Who should be India’s third seamer in the Test XI?
The injuries to Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have allowed the BCCI to hand call-ups to Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj, both uncapped in the Test format. With Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami shoo-ins for the first two spots, Umesh Yadav, Saini and Siraj will look to wrestle for the third spot. Interestingly, all three are currently part of skipper Virat Kohli’s IPL team, Royal Challengers Bangalore.
The last Indian seamer to debut in Australia was R Vinay Kumar in 2012; while that debut was forgettable, Saini and Siraj come with more pace and firepower and have been in the Indian white-ball setup for the last couple of years. It will be difficult to replicate the role of Ishant, India’s Test workhorse, but a debut for either Saini or Siraj, if they get a nod ahead of the seasoned Umesh, could give them a chance to impress on Australia’s pace-friendly surfaces. Yadav has played just two games in IPL 2020 thus far, but would still back himself to edge out the uncapped duo for the third spot, having taken 25 wickets in his last five Tests.