Amid all the drama of the ongoing Indian Premier League in the United Arab Emirates, buzz around India’s upcoming tour of Australia picked up steam on Monday as the Board of Control for Cricket in India announced the three squads to be led by Virat Kohli.
The Indian cricket team’s last assignment ended in March earlier this year with the New Zealand tour. As international fixtures returned with England hosting West Indies for a Test series in July, fans have waited eagerly for the Indian team to take the field as well even as the IPL continues to provide its yearly dose of entertainment.
India’s previous tour of Australia was a historic one as Kohli and Co went on to win the Test series. But this time, with Steve Smith and David Warner’s return and Marnus Labuschagne’s rise over the past couple of years, India are expected to face a much stiffer challenge Down Under.
As is almost always the case, the selection committee for India’s national team has made a number of interesting decisions this time around as well. Due to the Covid-19 protocols, India will travel with a huge contingent to Australia so that players for all three formats can enter the bio-bubble together.
Here’s a look at some of the key talking points from India’s squads for the Australia tour:
Rohit put on hold
The biggest takeaway has to be the absence of Rohit Sharma from all three squads. The BCCI stated that along with Ishant Sharma, who is injured as well, Rohit’s progress will be monitored and a decision on the duo will possibly be taken some time in the near future.
The 33-year-old Mumbai Indians captain has missed the last two IPL 2020 matches his team played due to a left hamstring injury. In the nine games he has competed in so far this season, Rohit has scored a total of 260 runs and played a few match-winning knocks for the defending champions.
There are a couple of factors which make Rohit’s exclusion a little curious. Firstly, soon after the squads announcement, Mumbai Indians put out a post on social media which showed the right-hander having a hit in the nets on Monday. Although the franchise hasn’t stated by when he’ll be match-ready, it does seem strange that Rohit is training for upcoming IPL matches but isn’t considered fit for the Australia tour which begins weeks later.
Secondly, there should be more clarity on why one injured player is picked and another isn’t. If Mayank Agarwal, who has missed Kings XI Punjab’s last two matches due to an injury, is selected in all three squads, why has Rohit been put on hold? While the extent of both players’ injuries isn’t clear, the BCCI would do well to explain their decisions in this regard.
“I think a little bit of transparency, a little bit of openness about what actually is the problem will help everybody,” said Sunil Gavaskar. “For an Indian cricket fan, they ought to know what happens to two of their key players.”
Pant’s future in dark
Rishabh Pant, long regarded as the successor to Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the stumps, was a regular in India’s white-ball teams till the end of 2019. But then Australia’s ODI tour of India happened earlier this year. In the second game in Mumbai, Pant was hit on the head by a Pat Cummins bouncer which led to a concussion. And since then, the left-hander hasn’t played a single limited-overs game for India.
In the New Zealand tour that followed soon after, KL Rahul officially replaced Pant (despite him being fit and available) as India’s wicketkeeper for the white-ball matches and established his position with some fine performances. And now, with Rahul being picked as the lone ‘keeper for the ODI series in Australia, Pant’s future in terms of limited-overs cricket is in the dark as he has only been selected in the Test squad.
What hasn’t helped the 23-year-old’s cause is his performance so far in IPL 2020. He has managed to score 253 runs in nine innings and looked a bit out of sorts in the Delhi Capitals middle order. This has led to Sanju Samson, who has played three match-winning knocks for Rajasthan Royals so far this season, edging him out for the second ‘keeper’s slot in the T20I team.
On Tuesday, a day after being left out of the India squads, Pant showed some fight with a 35-ball 36 but it did little to stop Delhi Capitals from suffering a heavy defeat against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
However, the fact remains that Pant is one of the finest wicketkeeper-batsmen in the country. While he does have himself to blame for showing inconsistency and recklessness at times, the selectors too haven’t exactly done a good job of handling him. They inexplicably left him out of the initial World Cup squad last year and being in and out of the team can be tough to deal with for a youngster.
The hope remains that the selectors come clean with Pant and ensure he remains motivated to make a comeback to India’s limited-overs sides.
Jadeja sneaks in
As far as surprise inclusions go, it’s difficult to look past Ravindra Jadeja making it to the T20I squad for Australia. While his selection for the ODI and Test squads seems justified, the same can hardly be said when it comes to the shortest format.
The left-arm spinner has played all 12 games for Chennai Super Kings so far this IPL season and picked just four wickets. He went wicket-less in eight games and wasn’t even used by Dhoni in one. And it’s not as if he has been exceptional in the shortest format for India either. In the last 20 T20I games he has played, he has claimed just 17 wickets.
Of course, his value as a fielder and batsman is undeniable, but his primary job is that of a bowler and his recent record suggests he is far from his best. On Australian pitches where the ball tends to come on nicely, Jadeja could be taken to the cleaners as he has been in a number of matches in the ongoing IPL season.
Axar, Suryakumar miss out
Jadeja’s inclusion in the T20I squad seems further unjustified when one looks at Axar Patel’s recent form.
The 26-year-old has played a key role in Delhi Capitals doing well this IPL season. In the 11 matches he has played so far, he has bagged eight wickets but it’s his economy-rate of 6.13 that’s most impressive. Even with the bat, the left-hander has delivered some match-winning cameos at the death. In fact, it was Jadeja whom he hit for three sixes in the final over when Delhi beat Chennai Super Kings at Sharjah.
Axar last played for India in 2018. If the men in blue required a left-arm spinner for the T20I squad against Australia, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that he should have been the one to make it.
Finally, another player who has unfortunately missed out on the tour to Australia is Suryakumar Yadav.
Among active players in India, Yadav is one of the most gifted ones to have not played international cricket. The 30-year-old right-handed batsman has had an impressive run in T20 cricket since last year.
In IPL 2019, he got 424 runs at 32.61 to finish as the second-highest run-scorer for Mumbai Indians. Then, in the 2019-’20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, he got 392 runs at 56.00 to finish as the third-highest run-getter in the tournament. And in the going IPL season in the UAE, he has got 283 runs in 11 matches so far, with two match-winning half-centuries at a strike-rate of 148.94, to provide stability at No 3 to the MI batting lineup.
While India’s limited-overs squads for Australia are indeed filled with quality batsmen, one can’t help but feel for Yadav as he misses out on a maiden international call-up yet again.