India have named an 18-man squad to play a three-match Test series away to South Africa – here are the key headlines from the announcement.
Rohit Sharma ticks off another leadership promotion
Having been rested for the Test series win over New Zealand, the opener is back for South Africa and, upon his elevation to captain of India’s limited-overs sides, he will now serve as Virat Kohli’s vice-captain in the red-ball arena. Ajinkya Rahane, the previous vice-captain, has struggled for form of late – he averages just under 20 in Tests in 2021 – but remains part of India’s squad. Question marks, however, will linger over whether Rahane can still land a spot in India’s XI, particularly after the emergence of Shreyas Iyer.
Hanuma Vihari makes his ‘A’ stint count
Middle-order batter Hanuma Vihari, who hasn’t played a Test since his match-saving effort against Australia at the SCG in January, returns to the squad. Instead of being a part of the outfit which faced New Zealand, Vihari was sent to South Africa with India’s reserves and strung together a pair of half-centuries in a draw against the hosting ‘A’ side at Bloemfontein. It seems he’s been rewarded for his performances and with India missing a key all-rounder in Ravindra Jadeja, his part-time off-breaks could be a key factor in elevating him back into India’s Test XI.
Ravindra Jadeja’s absence poses questions of balance
India have been dealt some injury blows: Shubman Gill, Axar Patel, Rahul Chahar and, perhaps most crucially, Jadeja have all missed out. As an all-rounder, Jadeja lends balance to India’s XI and in their last overseas assignment, against England, he batted in the top seven to allow for a combination of four quicks and one spinner. His absence opens the door for Ravichandran Ashwin to play overseas but will India plump for the off-spinner to bat at No.7 too? Ashwin has operated extensively in that batting position at home but in only three away Tests – two of those appearances were in 2015.
Shardul Thakur could also come into consideration as an all-rounder – three Tests away from home have seen the fast bowler return three crucial half-centuries. Whatever the case, the absence of Jadeja poses questions in regards to the balance of India’s side.
The big names are back
A number of key players are back after missing the New Zealand Tests due to either rest or injury: KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. Rahul, who impressed as an opener against England earlier this year, will face competition at the top of the order from Mayank Agarawal, who hit his fourth Test hundred in the second Test against New Zealand.
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