More than a month ahead of the World Test Championship final, India announced an extended squad for the New Zealand clash and the five England Tests that follow; while there were no big surprises, there was still plenty to discuss from the 20-man unit.
It will be India’s first Test tour to England since 2018, when there they lost 4-1, and while most of the squad carries the same look, the highs of the Australia Test series win, and the trouncing of England at home could see them carry a wave of confidence with them. Before the five Tests, though, a bigger challenge awaits for the same contingent with the World Test Championship final, making it all the more important to dissect and understand India’s squad announcement.
20 players… that’s it?
The ICC recently allowed teams to extend their 23-member squads by seven members to factor in Covid-19 quarantine requirements, after which it was expected that India would carry a 30-man extended list to the UK. It seemed even more obvious when India A’s tour, scheduled at the same time, was cancelled, but the management ultimately decided to name 20 players (two of which are pending fitness) and just four standby members. With a World Test Championship to play in June, and five more Tests to follow until September, it does look like a thin list.
No place for Bhuvi (again) in wealthy pace attack
From being an injury-hit side that was struggling for bowlers to take the field in Australia, India now have a healthy, diverse set of quicks for the six Tests. Ranging from the established trio of Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, to the newer pair of Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur revolving around Jasprit Bumrah, India have a fine mix of experience and flair to challenge England’s batsmen. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who last played a Test in 2018, continues to stay out in the cold, despite his bowling style being a potential game-changer on English wickets.
The waiting game continues for Shaw
Prithvi Shaw must be wondering what more he can do to erase the trauma of last season’s Adelaide Test, where his run-less returns promptly led to his axing from the Indian set-up. Shaw has been in blistering form since – his returns in the Vijay Hazare Trophy (827 runs @ 165.40) made a strong case for a return – but he continues to stay out, with India trusting the trio of Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill and Mayank Agarwal to do the opening duties. At 21, there’s a long way to go for him still, but the extended time away from the team would do no good to his confidence.
A four-way spin battle, sans Kuldeep
The stocks continue to plummet for Kuldeep, whose two wickets in the Chennai Test in February, his first Test in over two years, weren’t enough for him to make it to the travelling spin contingent. With R Ashwin and R Jadeja both fit again, and Axar Patel having not put a foot wrong in the home leg, Kuldeep’s lacklustre returns of late couldn’t help him keep a spot. The fourth spin spot was taken up by Washington Sundar, whose all-round expertise edges him ahead of the left-arm wrist-spinner, who also didn’t play a single game in IPL 2021.
KL Rahul continues to be persisted with
KL Rahul was in fine nick during the recent IPL 2021 (331 runs @ 66.20) before a bout of appendicitis pulled him down, but the performances were seemingly enough for the selectors to retain him for the tour to England, pending fitness. It’s a set-up that continues to keep faith in a 29-year-old whose last Test for India was in 2019 (and has zero fifties in his last 12 Test innings). It’s unclear what his primary role will be though: the opening slots are already filled and Rahul has batted outside the top three only once, and will probably travel as the third wicketkeeper.
Where’s Hardik Pandya?
India will be travelling without any seam-bowling all-rounders, with Hardik Pandya being one of the most notable exclusions in the 20-member squad. Pandya, part of the 2018 tour, could have thrived with his playing style on nippy English conditions, and was also reportedly added to the squad for the home leg in preparation for the August tour. Yet, with little match practice with the red ball (his last Test was on the 2018 England tour) and close to no bowling contributions in recent times due to fitness issues, Pandya probably lost his spot as a middle-order batsman to KL Rahul.