Indian selectors seem to be least concerned about the big South African tour coming up early next year as they named a full-strength Test squad to take on the Sri Lankans in yet another series between the two neighbouring nations. Although they have refrained from naming the squad for the final Test, for which Virat Kohli is expected to be rested, the fact that they chose to go near unchanged is bizarre considering how Sri Lanka have fared in recent times.
The T20 squad chosen for the New Zealand series, on the other, has fresh faces in Shreyas Iyer, whose call-up is long overdue and Mohammed Siraj, the Sunrisers Hyderabad seamer who impressed in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Kohli, despite rumours of seeking rest, is retained as skipper for the T20I leg of New Zealand's tour. Ashish Nehra is set to play his final T20I in the first match of the series.
The next T20I World Cup is a long way off and in three pointless games against the Black Caps, the selectors had an ideal opportunity to unleash a young, untested squad. With the Sri Lanka series following close on the heels of these T20s and the South African tour immediately after, it makes little sense to bring the very best of your lot for a meaningless bilateral T20 series.
Quite a few question marks balloon up in India's team selections announced on Monday and here are a few points worth discussing on from the squads named:
Shreyas Iyer's deserves a call-up, but in T20s alone?
Few batsmen in the Indian domestic circuit have done as well as Iyer in the recent past. Marrying consistency, the dynamic batsman has been a constant fixture in the India A team and has manufactured runs at will. In the recently concluded series against New Zealand A, he smashed two half-centuries and a hundred in four innings and has been in such outrageous form that his selection comes as little surprise.
"Shreyas Iyer has been prolific in all forms of the game, be it day's format, be it one-day or T20 or IPL, you name anything he has been performing," MSK Prasad, India's chairman of selectors, had said after the squad selection. "We will sit with this policy that if we pick a player, we will give him an extended rope, and we will continue with him and nurture him and see that he goes on to become successful.”
Surely, the Delhi Daredevils batsman deserves a national call-up. But with the Sri Lanka Test series being an ideal opportunity to blood some young talent, shouldn't the selectors have picked Iyer for that as well? After all, he is a much better First-class cricketer than a T20 player. In 42 First-class matches, the attacking batsman has 3,668 runs at an average of 54.74, including a double hundred for India A against a visiting Australian side earlier this year.
While Shreyas Iyer has been picked in the T20 squad, I believe he is just as ready for the longer forms. If anything, more so than in T20
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) October 23, 2017
The manner in which he handled Nathan Lyon earned him rave reviews in cricketing circles. Yet, Prasad and his men seem to be content with the tried and tested and have resorted to a familiar squad despite the kind of victories they had churned out over this Lankan side just a few months ago.
Mohammed Siraj vs Basil Thampi
This surely is a tricky one and we can only assume that this selection was debated at length by the Indian selectors. However, only one of these two find themselves in the squad and that happens to be the Sunrisers seamer. Siraj’s popularity comes on the back of a scintillating Ranji Trophy in 2016-17 and a subsequently good IPL where his back-of-the-length channel and zippy pace got noticed.
Basil Thampi, on the other hand, was the emerging player in the 2017 IPL and has a handy yorker and a plethora of other variations. He satisfies the numbers column too and deserves a chance at the highest level in this kind of bubbling form. However, Siraj and Thampi are in reality not comparable. The two bring completely different skill sets to the table and are downright dissimilar in every aspect other than the fact that they both bowl pace.
So have the selectors tossed a coin to pick one of these two? Why not pick both? This series serves little purpose and continuing to push Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who could be pretty handy in South Africa later this year in the Tests, seems unfair on the bowler. He could instead have rested his tired legs or played a couple of Ranji matches to get in tune for the big season ahead.
The Ashish Nehra mess
That Nehra chose to name himself in the T20 squad by announcing he would retire after the first match of the T20I series against New Zealand did not quite go down well with critics as several of them, including Sunil Gavaskar, voiced their opinions against the seamer.
Now Prasad has come out with another equally strange explanation for Nehra's selection in the T20 squad. "We can't say that [if Nehra will surely play in the Delhi T20I]," Prasad had clarified. "Whether he is going to play or not, it is clearly the team management and the selector on call, whoever it is. The think tank involved will be taking a call. There is no assurance from our side that he's going to play or not. It will be decided on that particular day.”
This is as poor as it gets in terms of communication. If Nehra is picked in the squad (for just one T20I) keeping in mind a farewell match, why would Prasad go on to state that Nehra's selection in the final XI isn't guaranteed? On the contrary, if the management decides not to play Nehra, why was he picked in the squad in the first place? Several questions go unanswered in this mess which has gone from bad to worse.
The full strength Test squad and the burnout concerns
The Test squad for the Sri Lankan series is even weirder. With India having just drubbed the hapless unit in Sri Lanka just a few months back, the scheduling of this series in itself is meaningless. But with no other option available, the onus was on the selectors to reduce the workload on the major Test players ahead of the South African series.
But the selectors have apparently chosen to go all out in murdering the Lankans with the Test squad chosen as an avenue for experimentation, if any. Considering the burnout factor and that India have tried few newbies in the batting line-up in recent times, the series could have been used as an opportunity to try out some promising young batsmen like Shreyas Iyer or Priyank Panchal.
“Considering the workload and considering the international schedule we have right now, we are definitely rotating the players," Prasad said. "And it is too premature to say right now [who will be rested]. If you see the pattern with which we are selecting and we will let you know at an appropriate time. One thing is for sure that we are definitely going to rotate and monitor the workload of the players."
However, words haven't quite materialised into actions and the rotation policy, which is presumably in place, hasn't quite been seen in selections. Now, burnout would be a major concern as India venture on their first big overseas assignment in a long, long time. Cometh South Africa, India are likely to have a handful of overworked, exhausted, worn out players.
Rohit Sharma’s continued selection
Rohit Sharma has done little of note in the Test team but continues to be the reserve batsman despite his well-known shortcomings against the red cherry in foreign conditions. India have several young promising middle-order batsmen in the Ranji Trophy but now anyone who comes in will have a testing time as their debut will likely be on tougher, greener tracks with India scheduled to play most of 2018 outside the sub-continent.
The Sri Lankan series could have served as a right platform for a young batsman to settle down into the Test squad before he accompanies the squad for South Africa as the reserve batsman. The burnout factor further enhances the possibility of the backup batsman getting games some way along the course of the South African series. Would India like to push Rohit in on a green-tinged Johannesburg wicket against the likes of Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel and possibly even Dale Steyn? There seems to be little futuristic planning in the squads selected and Prasad and his panel have disappointed yet again in terms of trying fresh talent.
T20I squad vs New Zealand: Virat Kohli (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Mohammed Siraj.
Test Squad vs Sri Lanka: Virat Kohli (c), KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravchandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Hardik Pandya, Umesh Yadav.