Kolkata: It’s been more than a week that the jumbo Indian squad has been named for the World Test Championship and the five-Test series in England. While it’s as strong as it can be, there is one noticeable chink - the absence of a seam bowling allrounder with Hardik Pandya failing to make the squad.
The restriction on bowling for Pandya, who incidentally last played Test cricket during the England tour in 2018, had been a deterrent for him in making the red ball squad - and now it’s been raising questions about his position in the white ball set-up as well. It must be a worrying factor for Pandya, who had been bothered by a serious back injury in the Asia Cup in 2018, that he cannot bowl so early on in his career - as the depth of India’s bench strength may not allow him to play purely as a batsman even in the shorter formats for long.
Apart from posing a serious question on his career, it also threatens to disturb the balance of the team - so crucial in the six Tests coming up for India in the coming months. The Indian management, going by bowling coach Bharat Arun’s observation the other day, has taken cognizance of the fact and it was reassuring to see him naming Shardul Thakur as a potential candidate for the role.
The moot question here is: does Thakur have it in him to replace Pandya, which will call for him bowling at least 12-15 overs in an innings (in the likelihood of him being played as the third seamer) and bat at number seven or eight for India? My gut feeling is that the 29-year-old, who has groomed his talent in the khadoos (never-say-die) ambience of Mumbai cricket, can do the job and is a practical choice in the absence of any other quality allrounder.
During the last tour of Australia, Thakur was a part of the jumbo squad more as a stand by - but the way he grabbed the opportunity which came his way in the final Test at the Gabba reflected his temperament - and it has not gone unnoticed. His 115-ball 67, where a magnificent cover drive off Mitchell Starc is still fresh in memory, while the 123-run partnership between him and Washington Sundar brought back India in the game.
With the ball, Thakur dimissed Marcus Harris, Tim Paine and Pat Cummins in the first innings and went on to pick three more wickets in the second as India sealed a fairytale 2-1 series win Down Under. In a bowling line-up which boasts of the likes of Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav, Thakur is by no means the quickest at around 130-135 kmph but he is what you call the ‘skiddy’ customer.
He is a hit-the-deck bowler, which gets him extra bounce and occasional unpredictable seam movement - making him quite unplayable at times. Over the years, he has also developed an outswinger and with the ability to maintain his seam position, he can be deceptive in favourable conditions.
The perception about him still is that of a bowler who can bat, but a seam bowling allrounder is almost a no-brainer in English conditions - where the ball is expected to do a fair bit in the first part of the summer. It will be interesting to find if Thakur can rise up to the challenge.