Team India has had an incredible past few years in the longest format of the game. The World No.1 side registered its maiden victory Down Under in 2018, and currently sits at the top of the table in the World Test Championship. The previous year saw India's bench strength taking the central role in the playing XI, with the likes of Hanuma Vihari, Mayank Agarwal and Rohit Sharma stepping up to the occasion to become first-team regulars.
India's outgoing chief selector MSK Prasad, who remains proud of the 'systematic' grooming of youngsters in Tests over the years, was recently asked to pick his choice of reserves among the batsmen and bowlers in the longest format. 2020 will largely see India taking part in the shortest format of the game due to the T20 World Cup in October, but Prasad's choices for back-up options provide a fair idea on his selection panel's thought process over the years.
"If you take the case of openers, now with Rohit (Sharma) stepping up, you have Rohit, Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Abhimanyu Easwaran and Priyank Panchal. On any given day, any of these guys can open for India. That’s how we have groomed them from a systematic process through India A tours," said Prasad.
Of the names mentioned by Prasad, Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal are the current first-choice openers in Tests. Let's take a brief look at the remaining four names.
Prithvi Shaw: The Mumbai pint-sized batsman announced his return in style in the limited-overs format for Mumbai and continued on his solid form in the Ranji Trophy, smashing a double ton. Shaw was selected for India A's tour to New Zealand recently, and his performances on the tour could be critical to his comeback in the international setup.
KL Rahul: After being in-and-out of the Test side throughout the last year, Rahul was eventually dropped in October when Rohit Sharma took his spot. However, the selection committee continues to show faith in the batsman.
Abhimanyu Easwaran: A regular in the India A setup, Easwaran has been the part of the side on their tours to England, West Indies and New Zealand. He had a stellar Ranji Trophy season in 2018/19, where he ended as the seventh-highest run-getter despite playing only six games. He famously scored an unbeaten 201 against Punjab in a group game to rescue a draw, after his side conceded a 260-run lead.
Priyank Panchal: The fourth-highest run-scorer in the 2018/19 Ranji Trophy, Panchal has been knocking the doorsteps of senior team for quite some time. The flamboyant right-handed batsman from Gujarat has been one of the most consistent performers in India's premier red-ball domestic tournament.
While India have always taken pride in their batting unit, the side's fast-bowling unit has been incredible over the past two years. The Indian pace attack, spearheaded by the fiery Jasprit Bumrah, wrecked havoc overseas as well as at home to become one of the most revered fast-bowling line-up in the world. MSK Prasad also named his choice of back-ups for the existing pace-bowling quartet of Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav.
"Talking of fast bowling back-ups, we have Navdeep Saini, Avesh Khan, Basil Thampi, Sandeep Warrier, Ishan Porel and Mohammed Siraj. So, there is a bench for every slot. I am sure this will pave the way and strengthen the Indian team across all formats," said Prasad.
Navdeep Saini: The tall fast bowler is already in the mix of things in the limited-overs format. He impressed in his debut series against West Indies on Carribean shores before an injury ruled him out for a major part of India's home season.
Avesh Khan: The 23-year-old bowler travelled with the Indian team as a net bowler during the 2019 ODI World Cup. A fast bowler with seething pace, Avesh has been impressive in his first two Ranji games of the season, collecting 12 wickets in four innings so far.
Basil Thampi: The 26-year-old is largely identified as a T20 bowler, grabbing the IPL Emerging Player of the Year award in the 2017 season of the league. However, he's slowly finding his foot in the longest format as well. He has taken 72 first-class wickets so far.
Sandeep Warrier: Warrier is in India A squad for their upcoming tour to New Zealand. He was brilliant in the previous season of the Ranji Trophy, picking up 44 wickets for Kerala in 10 games.
Ishan Porel: The Bengal youngster had an unlucky outing in the U-19 World Cup 2018 when he suffered from an injury quite early in the campaign. However, he made a gritty comeback and represents Bengal in the Ranji Trophy. In 17 first-class games, the 21-year-old has taken 44 wickets. Like Warrier, Porel is also named in India A's squad for the tour to New Zealand.
Mohammad Siraj: The fast-bowler has had poor outings in the international setup which eventually led to his removal from the side. However, he has made a comeback to the India A side for the upcoming tour to New Zealand, which shows that the selectors continue to have belief in his ability.