Arshdeep, Umran Exciting Choices in T20I Squad, Test Squad Par For Course
India's squads for the T20I series against South Africa and the Test vs England were announced on Sunday.
A big song and dance sequence was enacted about four years ago when the Supreme Court approved Justice Lodha’s recommendations for the BCCI. One of the key recommendations was pruning the five-man senior selection panel to just three.
The logic given by the Lodha panel was that the three selectors would get inputs from scouts who were never appointed. The people in power ensured that enough pressure was exerted and as a result, the selection panel went back to being a five-man team. The reasoning was that a massive country like India needed five selectors. But when their contract was reduced to one year, unlike the previous term of two years, no song and dance happened.
Now since January 2022, the present selection panel led by Chetan Sharma has been down to four members. The fifth selector, Abey Kuruvilla, has officially joined the BCCI as general manager (cricket operations). Since Kuruvilla’s appointment, again conveyed by sources, the abridged selection panel has chosen squads for ODIs and T20Is against West Indies, alongside squads for the T20Is and Tests against Sri Lanka.
It should have therefore been a tough job for the four remaining selectors to name India’s T20I squad for the series against South Africa at home and then for the one-off Test against England starting July 1 at Edgbaston, Birmingham.
After all, India is a massive country and needs a lot of leg work.
But thankfully for the selectors, that problem was solved as all the major players minus Cheteshwar Pujara (plying his trade in England) and Hanuma Vihari (showing form in a List A tournament in Bangladesh) were in one state, rather one city of Mumbai playing the Indian Premier League (IPL) this year.
The away Test squad is the easiest to pick for any selection panel as we have found out in the last four years. The major pace bowlers are always part of the Test squad away from home, while the extra spinners are omitted. The rest of the Test squad picks itself, though Mayank Agarwal and Priyank Panchal will feel a little let down.
It is with the T20I squad that there has been a lot of talk considering India is hoping to reclaim the T20 World Cup later this year after 15 years. A lot of speculation emerged about how Shikhar Dhawan would lead the squad. But a simple look at India’s T20I squad over the last eight months would have confirmed that the selectors were looking beyond Dhawan in T20I cricket.
The fact that Lokesh Rahul will lead against South Africa is a good sign. Since returning from South Africa where he led India in the second Test and the ODIs, Rahul has played just one international while missing out on everything else before the IPL.
So, Rahul had to be picked.
The rest of the line-up is pretty much a safe bet, not a large second-string squad as was speculated. Technically only captain Rohit Sharma, former skipper Virat Kohli, and Jasprit Bumrah are the ones missing out on the T20I selection this time. There is no place for the injured pair of Ravindra Jadeja and Suryakumar Yadav. Sanju Samson could not be fitted in but his time will come, maybe against Ireland.
With the Test squad set to leave for England on 16 June, Rahul, his deputy Rishabh Pant, and Shreyas Iyer may leave before the series against South Africa ends. So, there will be a lot of opportunities for the other players.
However, the best and the most exciting part of the T20I squad selection is the presence of two young quicks. Left-arm medium-fast Arshdeep Singh and the express pace of Umran Malik will be on display, hopefully during the T20I series against South Africa.
Arshdeep has been consistent in the IPL for the past three years with his left-arm bowling. In fact, it is still a mystery how he did not make the squad that toured Sri Lanka last year for three ODIs and three T20Is. He went in as a net bowler then and came in only when a COVID-19 scare hit the line-up. Chetan Sakariya played ahead of Arshdeep, how and why? We will never know. But finally, the composure shown by Arshdeep under extreme pressure during the IPL will be tested at the highest level. He has been preferred above T Natarajan who continues to be under a cloud of suspicion with his fitness.
Perhaps the most exciting selection has been that of Umran Malik who gets his official chance with the Indian set-up. He was a net bowler for the team during the T20 World Cup last year in UAE and also made it to the India A squad in South Africa. This was his first full season in the IPL and he has made an impact with his express pace. He has rattled batters and has been absolutely rapid. A lot of experts have called for his selection. With the number of wickets he has picked, Malik was bound to be an automatic choice for the selectors. His selection is an admission that he has been quite simply the most exciting option to emerge.
Dinesh Karthik’s return to the T20I squad after three years is also an admission that a mistake was made when he was dropped from the line-up based on his ODI performances. Karthik’s dashing performances with Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) made it clear that he could not be ignored. Karthik has displaced Sanju Samson and has also put pressure on Ishan Kishan. But with Pant being named the vice-captain, it is going to be difficult to make the playing XI. A spot on the squad for the T20 World Cup is a bridge too far for Karthik at this stage, but the selectors are clearly keeping their options open.
Hardik Pandya last played for India at the T20 World Cup last year. Since then, he has played just the IPL this time and has returned to the T20I squad. Pandya’s form with the bat has been decent and he has also bowled a few overs for Gujarat Titans. His aggressive leadership has also been praised. But if Pandya has to be a certainty at the T20 World Cup, he needs to bowl at least two overs in every game. There are too many dashers like Rahul Tripathi who can be picked at any time in his place.
The selectors have shown that they have enough patience to disregard the patchy IPL form of Ruturaj Gaikwad, Kishan, Venkatesh Iyer, and Ravi Bishnoi amongst others. They want to be consistent and give guys who have always been there in the set-up a longer rope. That’s a good sign, else if you get too impatient you can make mistakes of letting go of players too soon.
One message clear for all those not chosen is that the net is not cast that wide despite options emerging for the T20 World Cup. India is set to play a lot of T20 cricket in the lead-up to the World Cup, so a few slots could be up for grabs. South Africa returns in September again for three ODIs and three T20Is to replay the series cancelled in March 2020. If the slots are not filled up by then it is a cause for worry. For now, the upcoming series against South Africa is just a dress rehearsal… not for another song and dance, hopefully.
(Chandresh Narayanan is a former cricket writer with The Times of India, The Indian Express, ex-Media Officer for ICC, and the Delhi Daredevils. He is also the author of World Cup Heroes, Cricket Editorial consultant, a professor and cricket TV commentator.)
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