Normally (with no intended offence at West Indies as a cricketing team), there would not be as much hype surrounding the announcement of Indian squads for a Caribbean tour, as was the case this time. The Board of Control for Cricket in India named the personnel for all three formats with so much attention surrounding the process.
There are many reasons for that of course... will we hear something concrete about MS Dhoni? Will Virat Kohli be rested? Will Rohit Sharma be named captain, with some reports in the last few days suggesting a split captaincy was imminent? Which of the youngsters are going to find their names on the team sheets as India begin to focus on the next big tournament: the T20 World Cup late in 2019?
And the hype seems justified in hindsight as well, given how many talking points the announcements have thrown up.
For starters, opener Shikhar Dhawan made an instant return to India’s limited overs squads after recovering from a thumb injury that ruled him out of the World Cup after two matches. Rishabh Pant has been picked in all three formats for the West Indies tour as the selectors began planning for life beyond Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The Dhoni question itself was only vaguely answered (more on that later on these pages), with his unavailability for the tour perhaps making the life easy for MSK Prasad and his team for selectors in the short term.
All-rounder Hardik Pandya has been rested for the entire tour. Also coming back into the ODI squad are Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey.
Here are the few initial takeaways from the squads announced by MSK Prasad on Sunday in Mumbai:
Kohli’s soldiers on
The headline from the squads announced (and there was potentially many of them) was the inclusion of Virat Kohli across the board (as captain, of course). Speculations over Kohli being rested for the tour were put to rest. This means two things: a) The reports of BCCI considering split captaincy are either really premature or totally unfounded and b) Kohli himself thinks he needs to get back into the thick of action as soon as possible after the World Cup turned out to be below his lofty standards. (Only in Kohli’s case can scoring five consecutive half centuries at a World Cup not be considered a great return).
So put those unconfirmed sources to bed: Kohli is here and he is ready to go again.
Another golden chance for Manish Pandey
Quite a few of the players were picked based on their performance for India A recently. And top of that list is Manish Pandey, who finds his name in both ODI and T20I squads. A year ahead of the T20 World Cup and in the first ODI squad immediately after the World Cup where the middle order was exposed, the choices for the middle order in the West Indies squad were going to be indicators of how the selectors were thinking and that is good news for Pandey. The Karnataka batsman has had a good few months, leading his side to Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, finding form in the IPL for SRH and scoring runs as captain of India A in the ongoing tour of West Indies.
Make no mistake, Pandey is now in the last chance saloon. Do not mistake this call up as him *finally* getting a chance. He has been given a decent run in the middle order before for India but has failed to grab those opportunities. If he is serious about fulfilling his undoubted potential, it begins now.
All eyes on Rahul Chahar, Navdeep Saini
Rookie leg-spinner Rahul Chahar and pacer Navdeep Saini emerged as the lone new faces across three formats for the upcoming overseas assignments.
Rajasthan leg-spinner Chahar has been rewarded for his consistent show in the IPL and domestic cricket with a berth in the Twenty20 squad. He is the younger cousin of seamer Deepak, who is also in the T20 squad. Rahul Chahar’s leg-spin and handiness with the bat caught the attention during the last season of IPL as he came in for high praise from his franchise captain Rohit Sharma.
The same was true for Saini too, as Kohli picked him out as the one to watch out for before even the season began and the Delhi pacer went on to live up to those expectations with a string of good shows in what was otherwise a season to forget for RCB. He was rewarded with experience around the World Cup squad as a net bowler and is now one step away from being a India fast bowler: emphasis on fast.
Two exciting talents, two deserved call-ups.
Wait continues for Shubman Gill
Not so lucky was Gill. For someone who was already seen to be on the fringes of the senior team, after his call-up to the New Zealand tour earlier this year, Gill finds himself out of the reckoning with Shreyas Iyer and Pandey preferred over the youngster. Of course, age is on the side of the Punjab batsman but if the selectors are looking at him as one for the future (and they really should be), a West Indies tour seems to have been the right opportunity to blood him in and give him a go. Of course, not everyone was going to be satisfied with the selection calls, but this really does sting a bit if you are one of those rooting for Gill in hopes that he is the next big thing in Indian cricket.
For now, he has to wait.
Strong Test squad
There were suggestions that India might look to experiment with their Test squad as well but the selectors have named the strongest possible outfit, barring perhaps Hardik Pandya. In case your mind had been taken over the barrage of white-ball cricket in recent times, India are the reigning holders of the ICC mace awarded for the best Test side in the world, and they begin a new cycle with this West Indies tour. And it’s the start of the ICC World Test Championships as well and for a side that has prided itself on being the best in the longest format, it’s great to see the selectors put back that up without experimentation.
The only talking point is perhaps the return of Wriddhiman Saha, who has not played a first class match since the tour of South Africa early last year. It is highly likely that Pant will be the No 1 choice but the selectors have opted to give Saha a way back instead of naming another youngster.
“We have taken India A performances into consideration. In the longer format, KS Bharat was very, very close to get selected. We have an unwritten norm that when an established cricketer is injured, he should get a comeback opportunity. That’s what we have given to Saha,” chief selector Prasad said, hinting that Bharat is the next in line for Tests.
(With PTI inputs)