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Talking points from India's squad selection: Rohit Sharma's injury, Rishabh Pant's omission, KL Rahul's return

BCCI on Monday picked a 28-member jumbo squad for the all-format tour of Australia which begins November, along with four reserve bowlers.

Aratrick Mondal Written by: Aratrick Mondal New Delhi Updated on: October 27, 2020 13:08 IST
Rishabh Pant
Image Source : GETTY IMAGES

Rishabh Pant

Sunil Joshi-led Indian selection committee of the BCCI met via video-conference on Monday to pick a 28-member jumbo squad for the all-format tour of Australia which begins November, along with four reserve bowlers. It will be India's first international assignment since COVID-19 halted cricketing actions in March. Here are all the talking points from India's squad selection for the impending two-months long tour.

Confusion swirls around Rohit Sharma fitness status

Rohit picked up a hamstring injury during the Super Over game against Kings XI Punjab on October 18 following which he missed the game against Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians. While the management, in their press release, mentioned that Rohit has been recovering well, BCCI on Monday, after dropping his name from all the three squads, mentioned in their release that their medical team will "continue to monitor Rohit's progress", thus creating concern over his injury.

Yet around the time when BCCI were discussing the selection matters, Rohit had hit the nets in Abu Dhabi, where he batted with "full flow". Mumbai Indians even released a 45-seconds clip for the fans. The tweet sparked immediate confusion with the social-media post clearly hinting towards an IPL return for Rohit in the later stages of the league. Even former cricketer Sunil Gavaskar called for "transparency and openness" on the injury while speaking on Star Sports in reference to the video, saying that "Indian cricket fans deserve to know" the seriousness of Rohit's injury. 

Neither BCCI nor Mumbai Indians have yet given an update on Rohit's fitness status. 

Besides Rohit, Ishant Sharma is also recovering from a muscle tear that he had incurred during IPL 2020. He is presently at the NCA in Bengaluru with reports suggesting that he might recover in time for the Adelaide Test opener. 

KL Rahul returns to Test cricket, becomes India’s new white-ball vice-captain

It has certainly been the time of his life indeed. And not just the past two months, 2020 has been certainly Rahul's year. An accidental opportunity saw him grab the wicketkeeper's role with promising perfomances, while also solving India's long-standing middle-order issue in ODIs and T20Is with consistent and match-winning shows. Post resumption of cricket, Rahul started off where he left, consistently delivering from the front as Kings XI Punjab's captain. And he is not just IPL 2020's current Orange Cap holder, he has also been the heart of KXIP's ongoing five-match winning streak. 

By the virtue of his scores and his captaincy in IPL 2020, Rahul has ben made Virat Kohli's new deputy in white-ball cricket in Rohit's absence. Not only so, he has also earned a Test recall having being axed back in September 2019, ahead of India's home series against South Africa, following his scores of 0, 4, 33*, 2, 44, 2, 0, 9, 44, 38, 13, 6 in his last three Test series. In fact, since 2017, he has only managed one half-century (against Afghanistan) and a century (at the Oval) in Tests. 

A four-way battle for the opener's spot

Rohit's injury issues have certainly created opportunities for the management to try out their back-up options at the top of the order. Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw were the new opening pair when Rohit was sidelined earlier this year from the New Zealand Tests. This time around, the management has Rahul, who has played 36 Tests for India, and young Shubman Gill, who has been on the bench since the New Zealand series, and has the potential to play down the order as well. Besides, India also have a makeshift opener in Hanuma Vihari. 

Rohit's injury also gives the management to try out a new opening pair in the limited overs. With Shikhar Dhawan back and in form as seen in IPL 2020, he will be taking over his old spot. Mayank, who has been consistent as an opener for KXIP this season, can be tested alongside Dhawan. 

Is Rishabh Pant out of India's World T20 plans?

With MS Dhoni moving out, Pant was natural heir to the position behind the stumps. But the manner in which the last few months unravelled, with his exclusion from the limited-overs squad, it only implies that Pant is slowly drifting away from India's World T20 plans. He was benched for the entire New Zealand tour for ODIs and T20Is hence the IPL was a big opportunity for him to prove his worth once again. But he has seemed to struggle so far in the competition. While he has managed scores if less than 25 only twice in eight innings, is his strike rate of 116.8, his lowest in any IPL season, that has created the issue. Meanwhile, there have also been reports indicating that his tendency to put on weight has been the issue behind his exclusion. 

This also implies that the management is looking at a middle-order with an extra batsman, perhaps Manish Pandey with Hardik Pandya's all-round ability still in doubt.

Pant's absence will serve as a huge opportunity for Sanju Samson who has been picked as Rahul's back-up. However, he has blown hot and cold throughout this season, as it has been his story over the last few seasons, which is the reason why he has managed only four T20I appearances in five years. 

Varun Chakravarthy's addition creates a happy headache for management

He has been KKR's best spinner this season with 13 wickets in 11 games at an economy rate of 7.18, which includes a five-wicket haul as well. His inclusion leaves Team India with four spinners in the squad - Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar and Yuzvendra Chahal being the other three. Sundar has been excellent in the powerplays along with his handy cameos with the bat. Chahal has been RCB's go-to bowler with 16 wickets this season while conceding runs at just above five an over. Jadeja has more evolved with the finisher's role for CSK this season. 

Where is Suryakumar Yadav? 

SKY has been Mumbai Indians' best and most consistent batsman over the last three seasons - 512 runs in 2018 at 36.6 and a strike rate of 133.3, 424 runs in 2019 at 32.6 and a strike rate of 130.9 and 283 runs in 10 matches this season at a strike rate of 148.9. What further adds to his favour is his ability to play as a floater in the batting order given his range of shots from textbook strokes to unorthodox. Since 2018, he has a strike rate of 140.4 in the powerplays, 130 in the middle overs and 156.9 in the death.

Could Mohammed Siraj be India's third seamer?

Siraj has primarily been a red-ball cricketer having picked 147 wickets in 36 first-class games at an average of 23. He had finished with nine wickets in two games against West Indies A last year, four against South Africa A and was part of the New Zealand A series as well. Siraj also finished with 19 wickets in five Ranji Trophy matches last season. With Bumrah and Shami leading the attack, Siraj can play fill in the shoes of Ishant in the holding role. 

Besides, the team also has Umesh Yadav, but he had incurred a forgettable tour of Australia in 2018/19. Navdeep Saini is also part of the squad. 

Hardik Pandya as a specialist batsman? 

Hardik has been included in the limited-overs squad for the first time since being sidelined with a back injury in September 2019. However, it is most likely that he will play as a specialist batsman given that he hasn't bowled in the ongoing IPL 2020 as Mumbai Indians management has adopted a cautious approach as admitted by the franchise's director of cricket operations Zaheer Khan. 

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