Wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant and left-arm legspinning-sensation Kuldeep Yadav have been picked in India’s 18-man squad for the first three Tests. While Kuldeep was part of India’s squad for the Afghanistan Test in June, this was a maiden Test call-up for Pant, who has followed up a smashing IPL with important innings for the India A side in England. The squad was named for the first three Tests.
The selectors didn’t consider Rohit Sharma‘s two limited-overs international centuries enough to hand him a Test comeback as the India A captain Karun Nair continued to hold the spot of the extra middle-order batsman.
India had problems in the bowling department with Bhuvneshwar Kumar not named in the squad after he aggravated his lower back stiffness while playing the ODI series-decider a day before the Test squad was announced. Jasprit Bumrah, although named in the squad, will only be available for selection second Test onwards as he recovers from a broken thumb in Ireland earlier on the tour. The BCCI’s communication on both the fast bowler’s fitness was cryptic.
“Bhuvneshwar Kumar aggravated a lower back condition in the 3rd ODI against England,” the BCCI release said. “His condition is being assessed by the BCCI medical team and a call on his inclusion in the Test squad will be made soon.”
About Bumrah, the release said: “Jasprit Bumrah, who has been included in the squad, will be available for selection from the 2nd Test onwards based on his fitness.”
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. Mohammed Shami, who missed most of the IPL with personal issues and then turned up unfit for India training, has cleared the mandatory yo-yo test to force his way back into the squad. The other three quicks available for selection for the first Test were veteran Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur.
The selectors resisted the temptation of handing out Test selection based on limited-overs performance two matches after captain Virat Kohli had said Kuldeep and fellow legspinner Yuzvendra Chahal had made a serious case for Test selection. Kuldeep, part of the squad for the Afghanistan, was retained as the third spinner, but Chahal, who last played a first-class match in December 2016, was not included. India’s two big match-winners at home, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, were retained.
While the selectors seem to have resisted flamboyant picks, they did select a bolter in Pant, who originally wasn’t even part of the four-day leg of the A side’s tour. As it emerged that Wriddhiman Saha was not going to recover from his injury in time, India needed a back-up wicketkeeper for Dinesh Karthik. The choice was between going back to Parthiv Patel, whose wicketkeeping in Centurion was ordinary, and looking to the future. Pant helped his own case with an unbeaten 67 in a successful chase of 321 against West Indies A in Taunton. He was unbeaten on 37 in the on-going match against England Lions at the time of the announcement of the squad.
Pant averages 55.4 in first-class cricket with an amazing strike rate of 97.42, which has had observers salivating at the thought of his playing an Adam Gilchrist-like role in India’s Test sides. However, Pant failed to grab his opportunities on the A tour of South Africa last year. The last first-class season went without a century, but he has been in red-hot form since the start of the IPL.
Test squad Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, M Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vice-capt), Karun Nair, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Rishabh Pant (wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur
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