Lokesh Rahul has emerged as the biggest mover and shaker in India’s squads announced for the upcoming Australia tour.
His phenomenal run in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) and his exploits on the white-ball leg of the New Zealand tour have not gone unnoticed. The fact that Rahul has single-handedly steered Kings XI Punjab right through the season has meant that the selectors have given him a massive promotion.
He is now not just the designated first-choice white ball wicket-keeper, but he is also the vice-captain of the white-ball squads, in the absence of an injured Rohit Sharma.
Rahul’s exploits in white-ball cricket, both in IPL and for India, have obviously resulted in him making a comeback to the Test squad, after a gap of over one year.
Rahul has emerged as the third-most important cricketer in India right now, behind captain Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, with his leadership role adding weight to his profile. Rahul’s elevation also shows that he is being earmarked for the future leadership role.
His terrific run at Punjab was aided by his opening partner Mayank Agarwal, who had been a Test success thus far. But Agarwal’s presence in all three squads suggests that he has made rapid strides during the IPL for which he has been rewarded handsomely.
The IPL performances weighed heavily on the minds of the selectors for the way they chose Varun Chakravarthy following his performances for Kolkata Knight Riders this year.
Chakravarthy, who has a fairytale story has been named just in the T20I squad, suggesting that the selectors have followed horses for courses policy with this.
They have retained Sanju Samson and Washington Sundar, too, in the T20I squad which suggests continuity and their continued performances for their respective franchises means they deserved to hold onto their places.
But the big surprise is that there is no place for Suryakumar Yadav. Now, Yadav has been a consistent performer in the shortest format and deserved a place in the T20I squad, ahead of Manish Pandey.
This was an opportunity missed because Yadav’s ability to be inventive with his batting in T20 cricket is something the Indian squad could do with on the Australian tour.
Shikhar Dhawan’s Test career is well and truly over, but his return to the white-ball squads, following the miss on the New Zealand tour, suggests a bit of continuity.
The big surprise, however, has been the exclusion of Rishabh Pant from the white-ball squads. He was, thus far, the chosen one in the white-ball squads, till Rahul stole a march over him.
Now, with his exclusion from both the T20I and ODI squads, it means that Pant has to work extra hard to make a return to those formats.
Pant’s presence in the Test squad is purely because of what he did on the successful 2018-19 tour and maybe also because of his stump microphone performances back then. But Wriddhiman Saha will be breathing down Pant’s neck for sure.
The ODI squad surprisingly does not have a second wicket-keeper behind Rahul.
The other big story is that Hardik Pandya has been named in both the white ball squads. Thus far, Hardik has not bowled during the entire IPL. But his presence in the squads suggests that there is a role for him in Australia. His big-hitting skills will be a huge plus towards the end of the innings.
Hardik’s Test match return is still some time away.
The core of the Indian ODI and T20I squads are much the same which also suggests continuity. Deepak Chahar is the only other comeback face, in the T20I squad, after he missed a lot of cricket last season through injury.
The Test squad is probably the most settled.
The absence of Rohit means that the opening slot will once again witness a change. On the New Zealand tour, Prithvi Shaw and Agarwal opened the innings with Shubman Gill waiting in the wings. But now, with Rahul also making a comeback, it will be difficult to keep the Karnataka opener out of action in the longest format.
We are also probably witnessing the change of guard in the pace bowling sector. Navdeep Saini was in the Test squad in New Zealand, but the inclusion of Mohammed Siraj means that India is now planning ahead. Obviously, Siraj’s inclusion has also been necessitated by the injury to Ishant Sharma.
Ishant will be monitored with some even suggesting that he could land up in Australia for the Test series, but that is a long way off.
Overall, the selection is on expected lines with nothing out of the ordinary. The inclusion of Chakravarthy in the T20I squad is the only big surprise.
But the IPL performances have not gone unnoticed. It was good to see that the selectors and the think-tank have kept an eye out for the next generation of fast bowlers. Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Kartik Tyagi, Ishan Porel and T Natarajan will be travelling with the squad which means that they are being earmarked for a future role.
The likes of Avesh Khan and Khaleel Ahmed performed a similar role during the World Cup alongside Saini. Both Khan and Ahmed have fallen behind in the pecking order, suggesting that the fight for the slots even amongst reserves is pretty stiff.
It is going to be a tough challenge for India on the Australia tour, with 28 players and four reserves being cooped up together for a long time. Unlike the last tour, this time around, the battle will also be intense because Australia have rejuvenated the squad with the return of their champion batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner.
It promises to be one heck of a battle.
Now, the only thing remaining for us to know is the schedule for the tour!