Ravindra Jadeja, Hanuma Vihari, and Mohammed Shami made a return to the Test fold as the BCCI on Friday announced a 20-member squad along with four standby players for the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) final against New Zealand and five Test matches against England.
KL Rahul and wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha found a place in the set-up, subject to fitness, but Hardik Pandya and Kuldeep Yadav went missing. While Prasidh Krishna and Avesh Khan made it to the standby players' lot, names like Prithvi Shaw and Devdutt Padikkal didn't find a place.
Prior to Hardik's non-inclusion for the four-month-long tour to England, former BCCI chief selector MSK Prasad said that the Baroda all-rounder shouldn’t be picked if he’s not fit to bowl. Prasad feels Hardik wouldn't squeeze into the side as a 'pure batsman', with players in Hanuma Vihari being a crucial part of India's middle-order.
“I have a feeling that they actually asked him not to bowl so that he can play the Test series against England. Maybe they’re preserving him for the WTC final and England Test series. No way he can find a place as a pure batsman when you have Viharis and the other middle-order guys in the squad," Prasad said in an interview with Sportskeeda.
“If at all he’s fit to bowl, only then he should be picked. If he can’t bowl, he shouldn’t be picked – as simple as that. He should be in the squad only if he’s bowling, he will add balance to the side as an all-rounder. He will be a big asset to the side if he bowls those 12-15 overs in a day. That’s what he did in Nottingham in 2018 when he picked a five-wicket haul," he added.
Pandya, who returned to international cricket following a back surgery, hasn't been a vital part of the national side's bowling framework. The 27-year-old bowled a bit during the T20I series against Australia last year and chipped in with a few overs against England this year. He also didn't bowl for Mumbai Indians in the now-suspended IPL 2021.
Virat Kohli-led Indian side will the WTC final against New Zealand in Southampton from June 18. That Test will be followed by five Tests against England in the August-September window.
“If Hardik is fit to bowl and there are seaming conditions, then Hardik will play instead of Jadeja. If the team management wants to play Shardul Thakur, then only one of the spinners will find a place. And Shardul is an added strength with the bat as well.
"If Hardik Pandya is not able to bowl, then treat Jadeja as an all-rounder and play him as the sixth batsman, considering the kind of form he’s showing with the bat," Prasad further said.
India's squad: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (Captain), Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Washington Sundar, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohd. Shami, Md. Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Umesh Yadav, KL Rahul (subject to fitness clearance), Wriddhiman Saha (wicket-keeper; subject to fitness clearance).
Standby players: Abhimanyu Easwaran, Prasidh Krishna, Avesh Khan, Arzan Nagwaswalla.