On Wednesday, the Indian cricket Test squad for the five-Test series against England was announced and the first thing that grabbed the attention was its unprecedented size.
The number would probably have done justice to a football squad. But 19 in a cricket team to play just five Tests? Especially in these modern days of jet travel when a replacement is just a flight away? By the way, the team announced is for the first three Tests only.
Make no mistake the size of the team is far greater than 19 (or 18 if you go by BCCI’s press note). The 19th member, Bhuvneshwar Kumar is said to have “aggravated a lower back condition during the third ODI” and a call on his inclusion will be made soon, says the release.
In all probability, he should be fit well before the series runs its course.
Apart from the players, there are many more members who comprise a modern international cricket team — Manager, chief coach, assistant coach, batting coach, bowling coach, fielding coach, throw-down specialist, masseurs, physical trainers, physiotherapist, video analyst, baggage handlers, etc.
Add to this the huge ‘coffin’ (kit bags) players carry these days, mandatory massage tables, computers, exercise aids and other paraphernalia. This brings to mind an important question — how are all these people and their equipment going to fit into an English ground’s dressing room?
Cricket is a summer game in England and in most grounds the pavilion and dressing rooms are tiny. These are cosy and warm when the weather is wet or bitterly cold. However, at the first hint of sunshine, players rush out to sunbathe in areas outside the dressing rooms and pavilion.
This is an old tradition followed from the days when Gentlemen (amateurs) and Players (professionals) had separate pavilions and dressing rooms. Their social standing was vastly different and this was accentuated by providing dressing rooms of greatly different comfort, luxury and facilities.
England might have moved some way from those days. But many of their dressing rooms are still a throwback of those times. In a long, five-Test series, the lack of elbow room could give rise to a lot of man-management issues.
The shortage of physical space in the dressing room could even lead to a musical chairs-type situation with three or four players even asked to stay back in the hotel, if necessary. But having young people of different temperament and attitude in close proximity for long periods of time would be a challenge for sure.
Be that as it may, it is now very evident that the Indian team has several injury issues, especially with its fast bowlers. Besides Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah is also injured, with the BCCI release stating that he would be available from the second Test onwards. Then there is Mohammed Shami who has not played competitive cricket for months together.
He scarcely played the IPL and given his turbulent personal issues his mental frame of mind could hardly be ideal for tough Tests. Thus India would have just three fast bowlers in fine fettle for the first Test —Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Shardul Thakur, provided none of them break down before the start of the match on 1 August.
India’s injury woes provide England an excellent opportunity to lay an ambush and with a fully rested James Anderson and Stuart Broad at their command.
India have 14 days and a warm-up game against Essex to prepare the batsmen and bowlers for Duke red ball cricket. The Duke ball would swing and seam a lot more than the batsman-friendly Kookaburra white ball which was used in T20Is and ODIs. Thus India’s batsmen would have to re-adjust their technique to counter swing and seam bowling all over again.
It is good that six of the players, Cheteshwar Pujara, Karun Nair, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ishant Sharma and Murali Vijay have been getting plenty of match practice with Duke ball either through English county cricket or India A tour matches these past few weeks.
At least three of them could be expected to be in the playing eleven for the first Test and thus the exposure to English conditions and red ball cricket should do them a world of good.
The spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja too have been training with the Duke ball. The presence of the former would be very handy against an opposition which boasts of a number of left-hand batsmen.
Dinesh Karthik gets to be the first choice wicket-keeper after injury ruled out Wriddhiman Saha. This tour will be a major challenge for him and hopefully, he'd make every bit of his vast experience count.
As expected, Kuldeep Yadav too makes the cut. His variety of wrist spin could unsettle a lot of English batsmen, particularly the tailenders who will struggle to pick his chinaman and googlies.
Finally, it is amazing that selectors who are paid to take tough decisions and keep the size of a team to 15 or 16 players have been so indecisive that they have settled for 19 and that too for just three Tests. Hopefully, we won’t see a situation where fit players will be asked to put up their hand and 11 from among them asked to take the field.