Kohli has been named for the two T20Is against Ireland which clashes with his last commitment with Surrey in June. © AFP
The press conference on Tuesday (May 8) at the Taj West End in Bengaluru was not the usual run of the mill stuff. BCCI Acting secretary, Amitabh Choudhary and Chairman of the senior selection committee, MSK Prasad were to announce five squads.
The India Test squad: With Virat Kohli opting for a County stint, Ajinkya Rahane was named captain. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah were both rested, Rohit Sharma was dropped while there were call ups for Karun Nair, Kuldeep Yadav and Shardul Thakur.
The ODI squad: Ajinkya Rahane was left out, while Ambati Rayudu and Siddarth Kaul – both impressing heavily in the current IPL – were called up. KL Rahul too returned to the side.
The T20I squad: Suresh Raina and Manish Pandey retained their spots in the line-up, whereas Jaydev Unadkat lost out to Kaul.
India A (one-dayers): Iyer will captain the side which also includes the likes of Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Krunal Pandya and Khaleel Ahmed among others.
India A (four-day): Nair will captain the side that also includes Rajneesh Gurbani, KS Bharat and Hanuma Vihari among others.
Any squad announcement is concomitant with questions – the whys, the why nots and the whos. When there are five announced, expect a lot more.
Who is India’s number four in ODIs?
This carousel never seems to run out of power.
The management seems to have run out of patience with Ajinkya Rahane after the right-hander had a less than impressive tour of South Africa. Ironically, it was only during that series that Virat Kohli, India’s captain, said that Rahane at number four is a viable option for India in the future.
In India’s next ODI series, Rahane surprisingly doesn’t even find a spot. This adds to India’s search for a long-term number four since Yuvraj Singh. The left-hander has been given the longest run post the 2015 World Cup – a stretch of eight games. Only Rahane, with five, and Manish Pandey, with four, have been given significant stretches in between. India have also tried MS Dhoni, KL Rahul, Hardik Pandya, Kedar Jadhav and Dinesh Karthik, but nothing has stuck.
Into the mix now are Shreyas Iyer and Ambati Rayudu (and maybe KL Rahul). Iyer showed some glimpses of his class during his brief international career, but it’s his performance this IPL that has sparkled. The Delhi Daredevils captain, appointed after Gautam Gambhir stood down mid way, has shown that he has the heart and the ability to play and perform as expected under pressure.
The IPL has also been a breakthrough tournament for Ambati Rayudu. A right-hander who is adept at both defying as well as enforcing, Rayudu has shown he is not to be written off just yet with some sizzling displays in the IPL for Chennai Super Kings. If he manages to hold onto his form and come good in blue, India may have just found a solution that can last them up until the 2019 World Cup in England.
India have but little time to put their search to an end.
Kohli needs to be in two places at one time?
Kohli missing the Afghanistan Test in order to play County Cricket and thus ready himself for the England Tests certainly raises eyebrows. This was the same man who has reiterated that his team treats all others teams just the same. Now, however, the eyes seem to be on a prize in England, and Afghanistan, playing a historic first ever Test, stand to lose.
But more interestingly, the Indian captain has been tasked with leading the T20I side for the two T20s in Ireland. At the same time, he is also scheduled to play the last County match against Yorkshire from June 25 to 28.
Where Kohli will actually be come those dates is as yet unknown.
PTI spoke to both MSK Prasad and Amitabh Choudhary and came back with vague answers.
Prasad said: “Kindly talk to the BCCI secretary on this issue,” while Choudhary said “Be rest assured, everything is fine.”
Surrey had earlier mentioned that Kohli will be available for the entire month of June. Whether they will now agree to him leaving a few days earlier will be interesting to see.
It’s not just Kohli who won’t be part of Afghanistan’s maiden Test in Bengaluru, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Rohit Sharma too have not been included in the side.
Whether it was the right thing to do is up for debate. There are certainly massive benefits of getting the team’s best batsman more acclimatised to English conditions, but that it comes by belittling another opposition is a dampening.
Prasad though did not mind not having the chance to select his regular captain for the tour. “Except Virat, the entire Test specialists are playing this match. Once Virat is missing out for a good cause. He is going out so that he comes well prepared for the England Test series. It is always good that he goes there and performs well and he is very keen. He himself wants to do extremely well in English conditions. It is a great opportunity for us to win the series.”
Rohit’s future in Tests?
What started with a bang could well end in a whimper. Rohit Sharma’s future as a Test cricketer could be up in the air. The middle-order batsman might just have been rested, but it seems more likely that he has been dropped from the side.
Rohit is still far from being a Test regular, despite Kohli’s preference of playing him in the middle order in lieu of him having the ability to change a match in a session. That he has been rested from a side in which he’s not a regular doesn’t quite add up.
Nair has been brought in as the middle order option instead of Rohit, and if the Karnataka batsman comes good, it could mean he gets the upper hand for the England series.
Rohit also doesn’t find himself on the ‘A’ tour for the tour of England. Nair leads the ‘A’ side for the four-day games, indicating that Rohit is not quite close to a Test return.
Is it the end of Ashwin and Jadeja in ODIs and T20Is?
It certainly seems like it. With the World Cup a year away, it seems like India have more or less made up their mind with regards to their bowling combination. Ashwin and Jadeja were not long ago India’s go to men, but with the emergence of wrist spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, India have made clear where their preference lies.
“When they were excluded from the side, we made it clear that two-three youngsters are being given an opportunity. And it made sense to give them a long rope,” Prasad said. “If you see the number of wickets that they’ve taken in the last year or so, it’s really heartening. They’ve kept on improving game after game, so it makes sense to continue with them when they’re winning games for us both at home and abroad.”
It is, however, intriguing – the choice of India’s third spinner. Washington Sundar has been named in the side, but whether the young all-rounder is an upgrade to what Ashwin and Jadeja bring to the table is a matter of debate.
Washington has shown that he has the skill and the courage to bowl splendidly in the powerplays, but he is still far from a finished product. Ashwin has had a very good IPL for KXIP this season and has added new weapons to make his arsenal all the more comprehensive. Jadeja, too, has shown how effective he can be with the ball during this IPL.
But despite their IPL showings, at the moment, it does seem like the road to World Cup 2019 has closed for both Ashwin and Jadeja.
India’s fast bowling stock…
… seems to be getting better by the day. India already have a solid attack, boasting of the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah. Now in the reserve they have another impressive list, with Siddarth Kaul and Prasidh Krishna adding to that list.
Kaul has been very good for Sunrisers Hyderabad, emerging as one of the tournament’s most effective death bowler, while Prasidh Krishna came into the spotlight in the last domestic season, with his ability to hit the deck hard and crank up the pace. His maiden IPL outing, for KKR too, was impressive.
The list also has the many raw, young pacers like Deepak Chahar, Khaleel Ahmed, Shardul Thakur, Ankit Rajpoot, Mohammad Siraj, Navdeep Saini and Rajneesh Gurbani. Good exposure and game time to the aforementioned should see India not wasting more sweat on the emergence of quality pacers.
Reaping the benefits of IPL
The timing of the IPL could not have been better for some players to push their cases. Take Kaul for example. His performances in high pressure situations in the IPL have hit the limelight. KL Rahul’s stunning IPL form has eventuated in a return to the ODI side. Samson finds himself in the A squad, alongside fellow performers Shaw, Gowtham, Gill and others.
Even Rayudu, who’d spent a few years outside the Indian team was able to use the IPL to pave his way back. His consistent performances have meant that he now is back in the ODI mix and has a great chance of being a serious contender for a spot in the World Cup squad.
The IPL’s not all about money then, is it?