(From left) KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah (AFP Photo)
With Jasprit Bumrah, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul back in the mix, India’s Test squad is beginning to take a formidable shape for 2023-25 World Test Championship cycle.
Rohit Sharma-led India squad for the two Tests in South Africa sees return of Jasprit Bumrah, Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul and the squad wears a formidable look for one of their toughest assignments in the 2023-25 World Test Championship cycle. There are notable changes from the side which took field in the West Indies earlier this year as then vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, Navdeep Saini, Jaydev Unadkat, Axar Patel and KS Bharat have been dropped.
Rahane made instant impact (89 and 46) on his Test return during the World Test Championship final vs Australia but that was a SOS call by the management for the big game. The outings at The Oval helped him retain the spot, and get vice-captaincy too, for the tour of West Indies but ordinary outings – 8 and 3 in the two innings he played – meant his days were going to be numbered.
On the expected lines, he was dropped from the team for South Africa Tests as Iyer and Rahul’s return meant India had better options for the middle-order. Both Iyer and Rahul last played Tests during the home series vs Australia.
With Iyer it was always a case of him regaining fitness for the longest format after the back injury but Rahul has reopened the Test door with his wicket-keeping gloves.
The 31-year-old was dropped after the first two Border Gavaskar Trophy Tests vs Australia but his decision to keep in the longest format has opened up a lot of options in the middle-order which has looked very vulnerable since Rishabh Pant’s accident last year. Ishan Kishan was India’s first choice during the Tests vs West Indies but if Rahul can convince the management with his wicket-keeping skills vs red ball, he is likely to pip the left-hander for that spot in the middle-order.
Full-strength pace attack
Apart from solidity in the middle, a full-strength pace attack is going to be a big boost for the Indian cricket team. Bumrah, who last played red-ball cricket back in July 2022, has Mohammed Shami (subject to fitness), Prasidh Krishna, Mohammed Siraj and Mukesh Kumar for company. The series will mark a return of Bumrah the Test bowler and everyone would be hoping that his body reacts well to the rigours of a multi-day game.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) mentioned that Shami is undergoing medical treatment and his availability is subject to fitness but there is no clarity yet on the timeline and treatment. If Shami regains fitness in time, the likes of Bumrah, Shami and Siraj are going to be very lethal in helpful South African conditions.
Keeping the conditions, which offer pace and bounce, Krishna’s inclusion is a good decision as the lanky seamer has the knack of generating extra bounce and has the ability to move the ball both ways at brisk pace. Still early to say whether he would get a look in or not but will definitely pose a good headache to the team management.
Just two spinners
On the expected lines, the selectors have not gone heavy on spin and R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are the only options in the 16-member squad. Even during their last tour of South Africa, India had a pace-heavy attack for all three Tests and Ashwin played as a lone spinner in all those games. The management could well have to take that spinner call again when decide on Playing XI for the two Tests.
It’s unlikely India will field both Ashwin and Jadeja, and bowling all-rounder Shardul Thakur is likely to be the fourth seaming option along with three specialist fast bowlers. The debate of Ashwin or Jadeja or both will begin soon, and the management would now look to get that piece right after making some debatable calls in previous away assignments.
India’s squad for Tests: Rohit Sharma (C), Shubman Gill, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ishan Kishan (wk), KL Rahul (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Mohd. Siraj, Mukesh Kumar, Mohd. Shami*, Jasprit Bumrah (VC), Prasidh Krishna.
*Shami is currently undergoing medical treatment and his availability is subject to fitness
- December 26 to December 30: 1st Test, Centurion
- January 3 to January 7: 2nd Test, Cape Town