Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay and Parthiv Patel have all earned call-ups into a strong 18-man squad for India's four-Test series against Australia, the Board of Control for Cricket in India announced on Friday (October 26).
Hardik Pandya was a notable absentee from the Test side. The all-rounder, who played the Test series against England before suffering a hip injury during the Asia Cup in the UAE for which he had to be stretchered off the field misses out after failing to fully recover. His injury is a major blow given how much it affects the balance of the side but with the World Cup in eight months time, the team management has decided to not take a risk with the all-rounder. However, he has been included in the India A squad for the one-dayers against New Zealand A later this year though.
"Hardik Pandya has not yet recovered and will at least sit out till November 15," India chief selector MSK Prasad said while announcing the squad. "It's very difficult to match Hardik's all-round ability. At least we don't see that kind of ability now in India. That's why no other alternatives were discussed. And we expect Bhuvi [Bhuvneshwar] to come good; we know he can bat."
The selectors have also left out Agarwal who was included in the two-Test series against the Windies but did not get a game, instead opting for the more experienced option in Vijay. The pace bowling unit also sees the return of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah after the duo was rested for the Windies Tests. They come in place of Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur while Ishant Sharma also makes a comeback after successfully recovering from an ankle injury that had kept him on the sidelines for a while.
The batting department sees some shuffle with Rohit's inclusion into the Test side headlining the 18-man squad. The 31-year-old has cemented his spot in India's 50 and 20-over sides with some glittering numbers but hasn't quite had the same impact in the longest version of the game. He last turned out in whites for India during the Tests in South Africa in January earlier this year but failed to make a mark scoring a modest 78 runs across four innings before being dropped for the final two games.
"With regard to Rohit, we felt that his nature of cricket - he's a very good backfoot player, and we felt that his game is much suited to play in Australia," Prasad said.
Rohit's Test career has been a stop and start affair, to say the least. He announced himself with a bang on the Test arena scoring centuries in his first two games against the Windies in 2013. Since then though he hasn't had the same impact in the longest format of the game with his vulnerabilities against the moving ball coming to the forefront more often than not. In 25 Tests spread over five years, he has so far scored 1479 at an average of 39.97.
He now gets another shot at nailing a spot in the longest version of the game along with Vijay who was axed from the national side after the third Test in England owing to his poor run of form in the first two outings where he could only manage scores of 20, 6, 0 & 0. He, however, forced his way back into the reckoning after an excellent stint with county side Essex.
"M Vijay had been dropped from England, but he went back to counties and performed and showed his intent," said Prasad.
Vijay's impressive record in Australia might have also skewed the favours to his side. The opener has scored 482 runs in four Tests Down Under at an average of 60.25 with a top score of 144.
Another notable inclusion comes in the form of Parthiv, who too last played a Test for India in the series against South Africa. With Wriddhiman Saha still recovering from a shoulder injury, the 33-year-old comes into the team as backup for Rishabh Pant, the first-choice wicketkeeper. Parthiv, who incidentally burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old in Australia now gets a chance to resurrect his Test career in the very country. He has so far played 25 Tests where he has scored 934 runs at an average of 31.13. His glovework as well has improved leaps and bounds in all these years.
"He [Parthiv] was not picked for the game against Afghanistan and also the England series, but subsequently he played the Duleep Trophy, he batted well and kept well. So, if you see the selection we've done for the whole team, it's a mixture of youth and experience, which we really wanted because it's going to be a high-intensity series, which is why we've fallen back on experience. The advantage of Parthiv is that he's a left-hander and can bat at any number. When the team demanded, even with a fractured hand he opened the innings in South Africa," said Prasad.
The Test side bears a balanced look with Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar and Ishant along with Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav leading the pace unit while Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav will form the spin trio. Pandya's absence could well bring Hanuma Vihari's off-spinners into play.
The batting unit has Virat Kohli leading the troops with KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane to back him up. India will leave for Australia on November 16, and will first play a three-match T20I series before the Tests gets underway on December 6 in Adelaide.
Squad for Australia Tests: Virat Kohli (C), M Vijay, KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant, Parthiv Patel, R Ashwin, R Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar.