Kolkata: It will be a long, hard road back to the Indian Test squad for at least two of the four senior players – on whom the national selection committee have shut the doors for the two-Test series against Sri Lanka next month. Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Wriddhiman Saha and Ishant Sharma are not a part of the 18-member squad announced on Saturday, to be captained by Rohit Sharma.
While it was almost a no-brainer that Rohit would be the natural choice as the leader, the selectors have named their leading paceman Jasprit Bumrah as the vice-captain for both the upcoming T20 series as well as the Tests. With India having wrapped up the ongoing T20 series against West Indies here (the third and final game is scheduled on Sunday), Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant have been granted bio bubble breaks from the last match as well as the T20s against Sri Lanka.
Chetan Sharma, chairman of selection committee, tried his best to play down the cold shoulder to the four senior players – but the writing on the wall seems clear for two of them – wicketkeeper-batter Saha and Ishant may have played their last Tests. ‘’As of now, they are not part of these two Tests. We have told the four players to go and play Ranji Trophy and prove themselves. The graph of a cricketer’s career will have it’s ups and downs and if they can regain form, they may come back,’’ Sharma said during a grilling session in his virtual press conference.
His emphasis on performance in Ranji Trophy echoes that of the BCCI president Sourav Ganguly’s advice to the Rahane-Pujara duo, as both the seasoned campaigners have been enduring a patchy form for more than a year. Ironically, Rahane responded with a timely century for Mumbai on the first day of action in Ranji on Thursday, but the selectors were clearly looking for a change of guard in the number three and five positions – with the likes of Shreyas Iyer, Shubhman Gill and Hanuma Vihari waiting in the wings.
However, the selection committee boss did not have a satisfactory answer about the exception being made for allrounder Hardik Pandya. Named as captain of the new IPL franchise Gujarat Titans, he has still not been able to generate enough confidence among the selectors to find a place in T20 squad – neither has he made himself available for his state Baroda in Ranji Trophy.
Asked about a fitness update on Pandya and his availability for his franchise in the IPL, a visibly irritated Sharma said: ‘’We cannot forget his contribution to Indian cricket.’’
The interesting thing of note is that the selectors have shown a clear thinking on the wicketkeepers this time. In the white ball format, Ishan Kishan is being seen as the back-up for absent Pant while Sanju Samson has been recalled in the T20 set-up. The Tests will see Pant making a comeback with KS Bharat, the wicketkeeper-batter of Karnataka, being groomed as the back-up in place of Saha.
The decision to sideline Saha, ostensibly on the age factor, seems to be a harsh one as he had performed admirably in the last two Tests he played against New Zealand at home – both with the bat and behind the stumps. Saha, meanwhile, has ruled him out of this year’s Ranji campaign on ‘personal grounds’ while senior paceman Ishant has decided to play domestic red ball cricket after being in a dilemma.
BCCI announced a revised schedule for India’s upcoming series against Sri Lanka earlier this week as instead of Tests, the series will start with T20 matches. The first T20 will be played in Lucknow, which was originally scheduled to host the third and final T20.
Dharamshala will host the second and third T20s while Mohali, earlier also slotted for T20, will host just one Test match. Bengaluru will be hosting the second and final Test match, a day-night affair.
India’s T20I squad: Rohit Sharma (C), Ruturaj Gaekwad, Ishan Kishan (WK), Suryakumar Yadav, Shreyas Iyer, Venkatesh Iyer, Deepak Chahar, Jasprit Bumrah (VC), Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Deepak Chahar, Harshal Patel, Mohammed Siraj, Sanju Samson (WK), Ravindra Jadeja, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravi Bishnoi, Kuldeep Yadav, Avesh Khan.
Test squad: Rohit Sharma (C), Mayank Agarwal, Priyank Panchal, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Rishabh Pant (Wk), KS Bharat (Wk), Ravichandran Ashwin (Subject to Fitness), Ravindra Jadeja, Jayant Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah (VC), Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav, Saurabh Kumar.