@Ben_Wisden 4 minute read
Whenever any squad is announced, one of the key questions isn’t about who’s in the group, but who’s not in it.
Even in the time of Covid-19, when bio-bubbles and travel quarantines means that picking a larger than usual set of players is necessary, there are still several surprising omissions from India’s squad for the World Test Championship final and the following five-Test series against England.
Should one of the below have made the cut?
Despite being rated as one of the most talented young batsmen in the world, Prithvi Shaw has experienced plenty of ups and downs in his career so far. He made a century on Test debut and while he struggled on his first overseas tour, in New Zealand, a half-century in the second Test meant he was only a couple of runs from being India’s leading run-scorer on the trip. But, after a poor campaign in the 2020 Indian Premier League, scores of 0 and 4 in the first Test against Australia meant he paid the price for India’s historic skittling for 36.
The 21-year-old has bounced back in some style, albeit not in red-ball cricket. He was the leading run-scorer in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, notching four hundreds, averaging 165 and striking at 138, and carried his form into the 2021 IPL, with no one to score with 200-plus runs maintaining a better strike rate. English conditions can pose a stern technical examination, and Shaw is undoubtedly still a raw, if precocious, talent. But is excluding him from the set-up entirely the way to mould him into the player he could be?
Hardik Pandya played a key role in India’s only win in the 2018 Test series in England, claiming 5-28 and blitzing a run-a-ball half-century at Trent Bridge in a 203-run thumping. The Test that followed, a narrow defeat at Southampton that confirmed England would take the series honours, remains his last appearance in the longest format.
He has struggled for fitness since, often forced to play as a specialist batsman only, though it’s hard not to wonder if, by the end of a long stint in England, Pandya might be fit to bowl and offer India another way to balance their playing XI.
Is Kuldeep Yadav’s exclusion a surprise, and can we really say he is unlucky not to be in India’s touring party? The fact that neither of those questions can be definitively answered in the affirmative shows how far his stock has fallen. In 2018 against England, he dominated the white-ball leg, and by the end of India’s tour of Australia, he was being hailed by Ravi Shastri as his first-choice spinner in overseas Tests. His form has taken a tumble since however, though he played one of India’s Tests against England, taking two wickets in the series-levelling second Test win at Chennai. However, for India’s overseas approach, finger-spin and all-round contributions seem to be the order of the day, and that is bad news for Kuldeep. The left-armer is continuing to play the spin casino, but with little luck.
Arguably India’s finest exponent of swing, Bhuvneshwar Kumar has endured a torrid time with injuries of late. His last first-class appearance came before India’s last tour of England, in a famous India win in Johannesburg, but he seemed to be on the comeback trail, having impressed for in international white-ball cricket and in the IPL. Like with Pandya, India have chosen to ignore the argument that, with careful management, he might have a role to play towards the back-end of the tour.
Navdeep Saini and T Natarajan
This pair can be grouped together, with both having impressed in India’s incredible series win in Australia, when the reserve players stepped up in magnificent style, only to slip out of contention altogether when the mainstays returned. T Natarajan, offering a left-arm angle, can consider himself particularly unlucky to miss out on the India squad.
Jaydev Unadkat made his Test debut all the way back in 2010, and has first-class experience in plentiful supply, with 327 wickets at 23.21 giving him a good claim to being a capable back-up, able to step in without much fuss, having seen and done it all. His recent form has been stellar too. Since the start of the 2018/19 season, he has 122 first-class wickets at 15.89.
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