The selection of Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal and Mohammed Siraj, along with the retention of Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Hanuma Vihari and Kuldeep Yadav, reveals that there is some serious long-term planning afoot to bolster Indian cricket.
Shaw and Agarwal have not only scored runs heavily, but have forged into a brilliant opening partnership for some time now. They have batted together successfully in various matches, including India A encounters, to serve notice that they could well be the pair to bank on in the near future.
Of course, the presence of the talented Rahul should also help in keeping these three among the top three slots in the batting order. Importantly, the trio is adept at playing all three forms of the game.
Agarwal has been hammering down the doors of the Indian team with terrific batting performances these past two seasons. His unbeaten triple ton for Karnataka against Maharashtra made the discerning sit up and take notice. It also successfully enabled him to emerge from the shadows of the highly successful Karnataka batting line-up of Robin Uthappa, Rahul, Karun Nair and Manish Pandey.
Agarwal followed this up with huge knocks in matches which included ties against England A, Australia A, South Africa A, West Indies A and, more recently, the impressive 90 for Board President’s XI against the touring West Indies.
Skipper Virat Kohli will be pleased as punch that Agarwal is also a very aggressive runner between the wickets and a brilliant fielder in the outfield.
Agarwal or Shaw will partner Rahul in the first Test though both are expected to get a Test look-in before the start of the Australian tour.
The selection of Pant too is very interesting and sends the right message to the youngster. Pant is a natural as far as batting is concerned and this he proved with his maiden Test century in the final Test in England. But his wicket-keeping is another matter altogether.
Shockingly, he conceded 70 byes in the final two Tests in England. By then he ought to have been fully acclimatised to English conditions, particularly as he was part of the India A team tour of England earlier. Instead, his poor wicket-keeping alarmed the selectors and team management. They kept him out of the recently concluded Asia Cup tournament and instead asked him to work on specific drills under the watchful eyes of India’s former champion wicket-keeper Kiran More.
The duo worked hard at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru and, according to sources, More has been asked to stay engaged with his training a while longer. Importantly, the selectors have signaled that Pant is their long-term choice and are willing to groom him on the run.
Maybe this would be right time to make a specialist wicket-keeping coach a part of the coaching staff. Keeping to Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav on Indian pitches would be a nightmare and Pant would need somebody who has been there and done it to constantly motivate him to look ahead.
The selection of Hyderabad fast bowler Siraj Ahmed too is welcome. The 24-year-old pacer has been amongst the wickets and is, crucially, at a stage where he could benefit immensely by just being a part of the Indian pace squadron. There is plenty of potential in him and Khaleel Ahmed (left-arm pacer not in the Test squad).
The choice of Vihari too is interesting. He batted very well in one innings in England and showed that he had qualities that could help the team in tough conditions. He was used as a part-time spinner in England, but is unlikely to do any heavy bowling in Indian pitches.
The axing of Karun Nair without trying him out in any match is strange. But it is possible that the selectors do not see a spot for him in the playing eleven and have thus left him free to fine-tune his batting skills in domestic matches. He is too good a talent and would surely be inducted into the team before long.
All eyes though would be on Virat Kohli. If he has not recovered fully from the wrist injury sustained in England he should not be part of the first Test. Indian cricket needs him to be fit and raring to go for the tougher battles in Australia. The current West Indies team would be a pushover on Indian pitches, even if India were without Kohli. Thus it makes no sense to risk him. The selectors have wisely named a vice-captain in Ajinkya Rahane.
A vice-captain is rarely named for a domestic series. But, by appointing Rahane, the selectors have shown they have provided for all contingencies.
In fact, MSK Prasad and Co must be complimented for having chosen a team with an eye on the future. There is the right mix of experience, youth and potential in the squad. This set of players should roll the West Indies over. The bigger challenge would be to individually prove that they have it in them to make an impact in Australia later this year.
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