After two hours of consultation and discussion the Indian selectors finally announced four different squads. There was the T20I squad for the West Indies and the Australia series, the A tour to New Zealand and the Test squad for Australia. The standout omission was Mahendra Singh Dhoni from the T20s and the prevalent inclusion was Rohit Sharma in the Test team to Australia.
Let's start with the 18-man squad picked for Australia, as this is seen as the landmark tour on the Indian calendar. Rohit's addition is sure to spark a debate on the merit of selection. The last time Rohit played red-ball cricket was all the way back in January in South Africa and was dropped due to a string of low scores. In between, he has been in scintillating form in white ball cricket, but does the limited overs' form warrant selection in the Test team?
To be fair, Rohit hasn't had a chance to prove his credentials, as there has been no red-ball cricket in that time frame, but at the same time what does that message state to Karun Nair? He was part of the Test squad in England and has now been demoted without playing any cricket at all. Chairman of selectors, MSK Prasad stated Rohit had been picked because of his ‘back foot game'. There is the certain truth, and the selectors seemed to have picked Rohit on a ‘horses for courses' theory. While it might be a selection gamble, perhaps India needs that experienced middle order batsmen and the selectors believe this could be Rohit's moment to shine down under. Only time will tell.
The other big discussion surrounds Murali Vijay. The Tamil Nadu batsman was dropped after the third Test, but went back to England and scored load of runs for Essex. KL Rahul and Prithvi Shaw are the first choice openers and it was either going to be Vijay or Mayank Agarwal. Vijay's golden tour down under in 2014 has titled the scales his way and rightly so. Agarwal is still untested and there is still a theory that he has a problem with the short ball. In the end, the right call was made.
The decision to pick Parthiv Patel is another mysterious case. With Wriddhiman Saha still on the sidelines and Dinesh Karthik's horror show with the bat in England, it is fair to say there weren't many other options. Interestingly, MSK Prasad said about Parthiv, "he can bat anywhere in the top-order", add to that, like Rohit, Parthiv is a fine cutter and puller of the ball, likes the fast pitches and loves the banter. While the selection of Parthiv is bizarre, did the selectors have any other choice? It would have been the massive gamble to take an untried wicket-keeper as a back-up to Pant.
The rest of the squad picks itself. Hanuma Vihari was in the 12 against the West Indies and did score a half-century in his last Test, he deserved to be on tour. Perhaps there was a thought of an additional pacer such as Mohammad Siraj, but with fast five bowlers already in the squad, it might just be sufficient. Add to that, Siraj will be with India A squad in New Zealand, so he is only a short flight away if needed.
The three spinners might seem too much for the Australian conditions, but given Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja's ability with the willow and the drop-in pitches in Australia, there might be a case that India will play the wrist spinner in Kuldeep Yadav in tandem with Ashwin or Jadeja. It also indicates that India is still uncertain which spinner will be the most effective on the Australian pitches.
By selecting an 18-man squad, the Indian selectors have left no stone unturned. The absence of Hardik Pandya, as an all-rounder is sure to affect the team balance, but as evident in England, perhaps it is time to revert back to the additional batsmen and believe that the fast bowling artillery has the ability to take 20 wickets on any type of surface.
One man that clearly has lost faith in the selectors is Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The former Indian captain was excluded from the T20 team against the West Indies and Australia. Given the next T20 World Cup is in 2020, it is the right call by the selectors. The decline in Dhoni's power game has been obvious for a while now and time has come to make Pant a regular keeper in the team.
In terms of the A squad to New Zealand, it is a right call by the selectors to include the Test incumbents as part of the squad. Prithvi Shaw, Ajinkya Rahane, Murali Vijay and Hanuma Vihari will play in the four-day match in New Zealand as part of the preparation for the Australian Test series. With only one tour match scheduled in Australia, it is a wise ploy by the selectors to get some match practice for the batsmen. The only problem is that the New Zealand pitches are different to Australia and the line-up they will confront is likely to be second string, first-class team. But with just the solitary practice match in Australia, at least the selectors are providing the Test players an opportunity.
In the end, there cannot be too many qualms about the squads. Bowlers have been managed. A legend has been brushed aside with an eye towards the future and batsmen have been picked based on conditions.