Such is the non-stop nature of Indian cricket these days that a day after the Asia Cup is over and less than a month after the five-match Test series in England got completed, we are already looking forward to the home season where West Indies are the visitors. On Saturday, the selectors announced the squad for the Test series with Virat Kohli returning to the side as captain while quite a few usual suspects miss out, either due to form or fitness.
West Indies begin their full tour of India with two Test matches, the first of which starts on October 4 in Rajkot, followed by the second Test at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, Hyderabad from October 12-16.
All eyes will be on the batting lineup because India’s bowling attack has now reached a point where you can afford to miss a couple of sure-shot starters and still be confident of fielding a strong unit, irrespective of the conditions.
Here are the talking points from the 15-member squad announced by the BCCI.
The right call on Dhawan
In eight innings during the Test series in England, Dhawan scored a total of 162 runs against the moving red ball, struggling, often, to find his bearings. Barely a week after that tour was over, against the white ball in subcontinental conditions, he more than doubled his tally in the Asia Cup, finishing as the player of the tournament and the leading run-getter. India have often selected players for Test matches (especially at home) based on their white ball form and if he was picked, chances are high that Dhawan would have enjoyed scoring runs against the West Indies. It is what he does.
But the selectors have, rightly, resisted the temptation to do that and instead select three openers in Prithvi Shaw (more on him on these pages later), Mayank Agarwal (more on him below) and KL Rahul (hopefully India’s first choice for the foreseeable future).
Dhawan will turn 33 a day before the first Test of India’s tour of Australia in December this year and he’s not really shown a penchant for runs overseas in the longest format. Instead of repeating the same tact over and over and expecting a different result, (some call it insanity, remember) it was the correct call to drop him for the series against West Indies. The World Cup is not far away and India would be much better off with their two white-ball openers focussing on white ball cricket, with adequate rest in between, without getting their confidence affected by failures in Test cricket. Rohit Sharma got that message before the England series, and his partner Dhawan gets it after England. In the long run, this division of labour should benefit Indian cricket immensely given how crucial the duo are for India when they play in blue.
High time for Agarwal
Mayank Agarwal couldn’t stop scoring runs in the 2017-18 season, in which he amassed 2253 runs in 36 innings across formats according to ESPNCricinfo. It remains to be seen if he would get to play in the XI, given Prithvi Shaw is seemingly ahead in the pecking order after being selected for the England tour. But, in an ideal world, Mayank should walk into the XI for both the Tests against West Indies irrespective of whether Shaw plays or not. Such has been his form. While many thought he was unlucky to miss out on a place for the England series, Agarwal has finally earned his call up and credit must go to him for not getting bogged down by the repeated near-misses when it came to selection.
He didn’t get picked for the Nidahas Trophy when a second string squad was selected, he came back and scored more domestic runs. He didn’t get selected for the first team squad that toured England, he went with India A and scored more first class runs. He didn’t get selected for the final two Tests against England, he scored more runs playing for India A at home. And on the day he did get selected, he fittingly made a 90 for the Board President’s XI against West Indies a few hours earlier.
MSK Prasad, the chairman of selectors, has been asked about Agarwal repeatedly and every time the answer was a variation of “he is close to making the cut.”
And now, finally, he’s made it. It was high time.
The curious case of Karun Nair
“There is no argument that is going to ever satisfy me.”
A visibly irked Sunil Gavaskar, while speaking on the pre-match show for the Indian broadcaster on the first day of the final Test against England, did not mince his words after Kohli announced the team. Hanuma Vihari, who was flown in the middle of the series, was picked as the extra batsman (something Gavaskar had been screaming for, since the first Test) ahead of Karun Nair, who was picked in original squad.
“What has Karun Nair done not to get in? I know he has not been your favourite player. You don’t want to pick him. He scores a triple hundred. You leave him out. He fails in a couple of games. You leave him out. You have brought him back in the team. It could be the selectors who have brought him back. The team management probably doesn’t want him. And that’s why they haven’t given him the opportunity to play in this game.
All the best to Hanuma Vihari. I really wish him well. Karun Nair has every right to ask the team management what he has done wrong. He deserves an answer. ‘Why am I not picked?’ If you are going to pick an extra batsman, which they should have done from the first Test itself, and if you haven’t given him the opportunity, he deserves an answer.”
As it turned out, Vihari went on to score a fifty on his debut while Nair was spotted sometimes sitting in the stands and spending a few minutes on the field as a substitute after being around the squad from the beginning. No first class cricket in the meantime, just net sessions throughout the tour and then back home. You’d think the least that Nair deserved would have been a discussion with the management. That, after all, is supposed to be Ravi Shastri’s specialty — an arm around the shoulder, a pep talk or two, a confidence boost. Turns out, there was no word with the team management at all as Nair said in this Cricbuzz interview before news emerged that he was dropped for the West Indies series.
It’s not the first time it has happened in Indian cricket that a player returns from an overseas tour without getting a single minute of playing time and then dropped from the squad. And it certainly won’t be the last.
While the team management has come in for criticism for their chop-and-change selection policies when it comes to picking the XI, the selectors should take the blame for this bizarre turn of events. Was the team management even on the same page as the selectors when Nair was selected for the England squad in the first place? Evidence suggests the answer is no. And now, the player’s confidence has been destroyed due to the poor handling of his place in the side. That, really, is a crying shame.