But despite helping script a remarkable turnaround from 1-0 down after the first Test, it’s tough to know how many of these players will actually make it to the final XI in England to play in the match they made sure India qualified for.
Ravi Shastri was as candid as one could be in the post-series press conference, emphasizing on how the bubble, a word he had repeated 14 times in 40 seconds after the fourth Test, played a part in helping India understand its squad depth.
“Because of the bubble you had to go with enlarged squads. Normally you’d go with 17-18. But because of the bubble and quarantine laws that exist, you had to go with 25, 30 and 35 in certain cases. As a result of which you had to dig deep and pick your 30 best players. As luck would have it, we were left with no choice but to play each of those 30. And you found out who is good and who is not good. So it is a good headache to have. It is something that’s worked well,” Shastri said.
A problem of plenty poses plenty of problems for India ahead of the World Test Championship. With quite a lot of players missing a part of the England series, the question remains as to how many of the XI in the fourth Test would play India’s next Test assignment, the World Test Championship final, on June 18 against New Zealand.
India XI for fourth Test: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wk), Washington Sundar, Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj
First names on the team sheet
Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rishabh Pant, Rohit Sharma
It’s saying something that Rishabh Pant, who wasn’t even a certain starter for the first Test against England at home despite his Australia heroics is now one of the first picks in India’s team sheet. An improved wicketkeeper and a domineering presence in the middle-order, Pant has come a long way from being ridiculed for his recklessness to becoming a fan favourite and a team player.
“We go hard on him. Nothing comes easy. He was told in no uncertain terms, he’s got to respect the game a little more. He’s got to lose a bit of weight, he’s got to work hard on his keeping. We know the talent he has; he’s a genuine match winner. And he’s responded. He’s worked like hell over the last three or four months. And the results are showing,” Shastri said after the fourth Test, and going by his runs, and the confidence the coach and skipper have in Pant, there’s no way he is missing the WTC final.
Virat Kohli picks himself in the XI, but would still be searching for a Test century since November 2019. Cheteshwar Pujara has had a poor run of form, like the skipper and the vice-captain, but in overseas conditions, the resilience he offers is valued much. Ironically, in 2018, when India toured England, Pujara wasn’t picked in the first Test for his lack of intent, but since then the No.3 has made a remarkable turnaround and is one of India’s most trusted names in the XI.
Rohit Sharma’s transition from a limited-overs opener to a Test opener has been complete with runs at home and in Australia, and even if questions linger on his ability to play the swinging ball, which could be a factor in England, there’s no way he’ll be warming the bench after his spectacular run of form in red ball cricket.
Highly likely to play, but not certain
Ishant Sharma, Shubman Gill, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ajinkya Rahane
The most suspect name in that list is the Indian vice-captain, who has had an extended run of questionable form either side of a brilliant hundred in Melbourne to lead India’s comeback in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. However, this management has often thrown its weight behind Rahane and it is unlikely India will go testing for the big final.
The same applies to Gill, who was picked over Mayank Agarwal for the England series despite the latter’s big numbers in home Tests. While Gill hasn’t been as convincing, in Australia he showed glimpses of his unmistakable talent and with Mayank’s numbers going awry away from home, Gill is likely to partner Rohit at the top.
Ishant Sharma faces stiff competition from an array of fast bowlers waiting in the wings, but his superior experience and new-found movement with the new ball owing to a fuller length, should tilt the balance in his favour. Ashwin’s place should ideally be under no scrutiny, given his stellar form with bat and ball. However, such is the wealth of India’s resources and their trust in Ravindra Jadeja the all-rounder that if they deem one spinner could do the job in the final, Ashwin might well find himself on the bench.
“ICC World Test Championship Final, here we come” #TeamIndia share their emotions of reaching the ICC WTC Final & speak about the road which led to the summit clash, where they will face NZ 👌👌 – By @RajalArora @Paytm #INDvENG
— BCCI (@BCCI) March 6, 2021
Waiting by the phone
Mohammed Siraj, Axar Patel
Siraj had a brilliant run of form in Australia and in the recent series in India and has effectively shown he is an all-weather bowler with the red ball. However, his chances of making the final XI are slim with Ishant, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami the favourites to form the pace attack. That said, any injury to one of them, would mean Siraj likely walks into this XI, ahead of Umesh Yadav, given how he has performed whenever opportunities have come his way.
Axar Patel will likely be a back-up to Ravindra Jadeja for the series after a booming debut series that saw him become a nemesis for England. While it’s unlikely Axar will play unless Jadeja goes down with an injury, his place in the extended squad is near-certain after the home series he had against England.
Would be lucky to make it to the extended squad
Washington Sundar has three half-centuries in six innings in Test cricket, but could well find himself out of the squad when India tour England later this year for the WTC final and subsequent series against England a month later. For all his batting heroics, Sundar’s bowling, considered his primary trait, hasn’t quite lived up to expectations and barring any major injury issues, Sundar could find himself left in the cold when India have a full-strength squad.
Predicted World Test Championship final XI: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah
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