India’s 18-member squad for the first two Tests against England was largely on expected lines with the inclusion of key big names, and the absence of a few others. However, there was plenty to still discuss from the announcement.
The four-Test series will headline India’s home season in 2020/21 and will be their final chapter ahead of the World Test Championship final in June. The squad retains a good part of the group that beat Australia 2-1 in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy,
Expectedly, Virat Kohli will return to take over the reins from Ajinkya Rahane, and a few others big names, such as KL Rahul, Ravichandran Ashwin and Jasprit Bumrah, all make the cut.
Hardik Pandya, batsman or all-rounder?
Pandya played his last Test in 2018, against England itself, before a back injury restricted his participation in international cricket to a considerable extent. Slowly making a full-fledged return to India’s three formats, the all-rounder has been kept away from bowling with fears of aggravation to the back issue. He didn’t bowl throughout IPL 2020, and very briefly turned his arm over in Australia, but might feature in the England series as a specialist batsman for the first time in his career.
According to a report in ESPNcricinfo, Virat Kohli and the selectors are backing Pandya’s skills as a specialist batsman for the series, even as he gets back to peak fitness, and possibly a return to proper all-rounder’s role later in the year.
The Saha-Pant toss-up won’t be ending just yet
After Rishabh Pant’s fourth-innings blitz made him one of the heroes of India’s Brisbane win, many would have assumed that he would be a clear favourite to don the gloves for the home series. Pant’s rich run of form also cast doubts on the future of Wriddhiman Saha, who at 36 could be looking at an uncertain future, given his lean batting patch. However, the selectors have included both for the home series, along with the additional wicketkeeping option in KL Rahul, suggesting that Saha is still very much in contention to keep wicket in home matches. Perhaps, there’s a case for Pant to both feature in the XI, the younger one purely as a batsman.
Can Sundar, Axar fill Jadeja’s void?
Jadeja’s injury has ruled him out of at least the first two Tests, leaving India without one of their key players at home. While Jadeja’s all-round presence will be difficult to recompense, the team has included two spin-bowling all-rounders in Washington Sundar and Axar Patel to seemingly fill the void. Sundar’s inclusion comes on the back of a surprise debut in Brisbane, where he looked the part both with the ball and bat.
The other entry is that of Axar, who was a regular presence in India’s limited-overs sides between 2014 and 2017. While he has earned Test call-ups in the past, Axar hasn’t played a Test yet, but seems to be a more well-rounded player, and had an impressive Ranji season in 2019/20, picking up 27 wickets at an average of 24.07.
No place for Shaw in India’s opening group
It’s been a difficult three months for Prithvi Shaw, who encountered a sudden dip in form during IPL 2020, and carried it into his maiden Test in Australia, managing 0 & 4 in the Adelaide Test. After his stumps were cleaned up in both innings, various discussions around Shaw’s technical shortcomings emerged, and he was dropped for the next three Tests.
In his absence, Shubman Gill made a resounding impact at the top, combining with Rohit Sharma, the other opener, to give India two fifty-plus opening stands. An out-of-form Mayank Agarwal found a spot in the middle order for the final Test, but is likely to be an additional opening option, so is KL Rahul.
India’s pace attack – a mix of old and new
Ishant must have proudly watched as India’s next line of quicks stood up as the first-choice succumbed to injuries. Having completed his rehabilitation and proved his match fitness in domestic cricket, Ishant is all set to play his first Test in almost a year, but will be part of a new-look attack which is a mix of old and new.
It’ll be interesting to see how Ishant fits in India’s remodelled pace line-up, which is now without Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav and consists of Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur, along with Jasprit Bumrah. T Natarajan, who impressed on his debut tour, is conspicuous by his absence but is said to have been rested by the BCCI ahead of his first home season.