All-rounder Hardik Pandya has been named in the Indian squad for the first two Tests as the Board of Control for Cricket in India announced the 15-member squad in Mumbai for the Test series at home against England.
Gautam Gambhir retained his spot in the squad as an opener after KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan failed to recover from their injuries. Karun Nair has been retained in the absence of Rohit Sharma, who suffered a hamstring injury during the ODI series against New Zealand. Rohit Sharma has been ruled out of the entire Test series after suffering a bad injury to his thigh muscle tendon.
MSK Prasad, the chief of selectors, addressed a press conference in Mumbai and mentioned that the likes of Rishi Dhawan were also considered for an all-rounder’s spot that eventually went to Pandya. The Baroda all-rounder has played 16 First Class games scoring 727 runs at an average of 27.96 while also picking 22 wickets at 33.72. The records aren’t compelling enough but Prasad reckoned that he is someone who the selectors feel has the potential to fit in as an all-rounder given the way he has progressed over the years. Prasad pointed out that the reasoning behind the selection was one that also considered his ‘mellowed down’ personality amongst other traits.
“He has not played much FC cricket but going by his form… at one point of time we all have to agree that we need to identify good all-rounders. After the Australia Atour, his pace has increased, he’s able to move the ball and his batsmanship has improved. And overall his personality has just mellowed down a bit and he’s doingextremely well. He’s one all-rounder we feel is an equally competent bowler and batsman, along with his fielding,” said Prasad. The chief selector also pointed out that the work done by Rahul Dravid, the India A coach on Hardik Pandya has been working well.
“Under Rahul (Dravid),he’s been working on him really hard on his mind aspect. I was on that A tour (to Australia). Now Anil (Kumble) is guiding him,” said Prasad before pointing out why Pandya stood ahead of other contenders. “When it comes to this particular series, in case you are playing three spinners and you want to have one bowler who can really bat. This is where he scores ahead of (Stuart)Binny. He’s much quicker and better bowler than Binny, and batting also he’s doing really well. Stuart is also definitely considered but as of now, with form, fitnessand other aspects, we feel Hardik is much better.”
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who missed the final Test against New Zealand due to a hamstring injury, was available for selection but the pacer hasn’t played any First Class game since recovering from injury. Prasad felt that any player coming back from injury would be better off playing a few games before being inducted into the Test squad. He pointed out that others have done the same and those coming in later will also be put through the same process.
Ishant Sharma, along with Pandya, is the other change from the squad that played the last Test against New Zealand in October. Rohit Sharma and Mumbai pacer Shardul Thakur were the ones left out. Ishant’s return jettisoned Thakur from the squad but Prasad mentioned that he too was amongst the discussions before they finalised their three frontline pacers.
Meanwhile the injury concerns that surrounded the openers – Shikhar Dhawan injured his left thumb after getting hit during the second Test against New Zealand, KL Rahul suffered a hamstring injury during the first Test against New Zealand – has allowed Gautam Gambhir to hold on to his spot as the first choice opener along with Murali Vijay.
India are currently ranked No.1 in the world after thrashing New Zealand 3-0 at home last month. This series though is expected to be a stiffer test for the home side after England beat them 2-1 in 2012 on their previous tour. The visitors will head into the first Test on November 9 in Rajkot without playing any warmup matches after having played a two-match series in Bangladesh recently which ended 1-1. Following the first Test, the teams are scheduled to play four more matches in Vishakapatnam, Mohali, Mumbai and Chennai respectively.
India squad (for first two Tests): Virat Kohli (C), Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Gautam Gambhir, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jayant Yadav