The Indian Test team embarks on its first overseas Test tour in a long while when they play Sri Lanka on their home turf for the three-match Test series. The Virat Kohli-led side has had the luxury of playing on their home soil for almost a year, winning Test series' against South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and England. Although, Sri Lanka presents similar conditions back home, it is a beginning to a season of overseas Test matches.
The selectors have made some big calls in announcing the 16-man squad to take on the Lions. Karun Nair was dropped in favour of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul returned after recovering from a shoulder injury while Hardik Pandya continues to fight for a debut Test. Perhaps, more surprising was the retention of Abhinav Mukund ahead of an in-form Shikhar Dhawan.
Here's a glance at the squad announced:
India squad for Sri Lanka Tests: Virat Kohli (C), M Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha (Wk), Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav, Abhinav Mukund.
While the squad reeks a familiar look, the selectors have given mixed signals ahead of a long year ahead. Firstpost analyses four key decisions taken by MSK Prasad and co.
Recalling Rohit Sharma at the expense of Karun Nair
Karun Nair must be the unluckiest cricketer around. He slammed a triple hundred against England in Chennai last year but has since played just 3 Tests with Ajinkya Rahane preferred over the Karnataka batsman and rightly so. Rahane has been an integral part of India's Test batting line-up and playing a sheet-anchor's role.
That said, Karun Nair's omission is not due to Rahane this time around with Rohit Sharma preferred as the back-up middle-order batsman, a bizarre choice given the Mumbai batsman's woeful Test returns. Given that India have some big Test series coming up this season, it is strange that the selectors have gone back to Rohit, whose failings in alien conditions is familiar to everyone. Nair could have been given a longer rope, given that age as well favours him.
Hardik Pandya's call-up
Hardik Pandya was part of the Test squad for the England series initially before he hurt his shoulder and was withdrawn from the squad. He was then recalled for the first two Tests against Australia but failed to get a game against them which means that the hard hitting all-rounder is still awaiting a Test debut.
The Baroda all-rounder's exploits in the final of the Champions Trophy seems to have promoted the selectors to pick him again. While he may still have to wait for game time given that Jadeja and Ashwin pick themselves in sub-continental conditions, a talented player like him needs to be around the Test team to absorb the kind of environment and team culture.
Kuldeep Yadav vs Amit Mishra
It was a no-brainer given the form the young Kolkata Knight Riders' chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav has been in. However, the selection panel had to get this one spot on. Mishra has performed whenever given the responsibility in the Indian Test line-up but Kuldeep has proven to be a mystery bowler with a knack of making big breakthroughs, a trait which could stand in his favour when India tours on greener pastures.
While Mishra's leggies offer comfort, Kuldeep's provide the X-factor, something missing in this Indian Test line-up. With Ashwin and Jadeja automatic picks, it remains to be seen how Kohli uses the UP spinner. He rightly gave the chinaman ample game time in West Indies and to his credit, the young wrist spinner delivered. The Sri Lankan tour could well see India start with Kuldeep as the third spinner but don't be surprised if he ends the series as the no 1 spinner.
The Mukund-Dhawan-Rahul conundrum
India had used Abhinav Mukund as opener in the Australian series after their openers were out injured and being a stop-gap option, dropping him for Shikhar Dhawan would not have raised too many question marks especially with the kind of form the aggressive Delhi batsman exhibited in the Champions Trophy.
But the selectors chose to recall KL Rahul, someone who has shown amazing temperament at the top before an injury curtailed his honeymoon period in Test cricket. Mukund was retained as well given the left-hander's ability to weather tough early conditions. It was a right call given that Dhawan has been a hit or miss in overseas Tests. MSK Prasad and co have shown foresightedness in not picking Dhawan, who hasn't been as consistent in Tests as in ODIs. With Vijay returning from injury, one spot was fixed and picking a partner for him (KL Rahul) plus a back-up opener in Mukund was the right way to go.