Shardul Thakur and Faiz Fazal: Team India's latest selections show value of Ranji performances
The two biggest surprise selections for the tours of Zimbabwe and West Indies were Vidarbha batsman Faiz Fazal, who was named in the ODI and T20I squads, and Mumbai pacer Shardul Thakur, who has been named in the 17-man Test squad
As the hullabaloo of the Indian Premier League (IPL) draws to a close, the Indian cricket team is preparing itself for its return to international cricket, starting with a limited-overs tour of Zimbabwe, which will then be followed by a four-Test tour of West Indies. The BCCI announced squads for the two tours on Monday, with MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli named captains for the Zimbabwe and West Indies tours respectively.
There was a lot of expectation and hype surrounding the selection of unfamiliar faces, especially for the Zimbabwe squad. The selection panel, headed by former India cricketer Sandeep Patil, concurred with this view and announced a squad packed with youngsters, most of whom are yet to make their mark on the international front. Meanwhile, the Test squad features all the usual suspects.
The two biggest surprise selections were Vidarbha batsman Faiz Fazal, who was named in the ODI and T20I squads, and Mumbai pacer Shardul Thakur, who has been named in the 17-man Test squad. Fazal is the least known among several uncapped members part of the T20 and ODI squad to tour the Southern African nation, while Thakur is the only member of the Test squad with no international experience.
Here's a look at the career graphs of Fazal and Thakur, and their cricketing journey so far.
The 30-year-old top-order batsman from Nagpur is the only member of the limited-overs squad that will tour Zimbabwe who doesn't have a contract in the Indian Premier League (IPL), having gone unsold in the 2016 IPL auction after being tagged at a base price of Rs 10 lakh.
Fazal's domestic career got off to a flying start with a 303-ball 151 in 2003, which helped Vidarbha notch up an innings and 112-run win over Jammu and Kashmir. The 17 boundaries and a solitary six in that innings was only an indicator of things to come. Having played for Vidarbha, Railways and Central Zone in his first-class career, Fazal had a lucky break when he was picked up by Rajasthan Royals. He went on to play 12 matches for RR across the 2010 and 2011 editions, scoring 183 runs.
The southpaw, who has over 5,000 first-class runs to his credit, enjoyed his most glorious moments earlier this year. While he turned out to be Vidarbha's leading run-getter in the recently-concluded Ranji Trophy, scoring 559 runs in eight games at an average just under 40, he led with the bat in the Deodhar Trophy final, as well as in the Irani Trophy. Fazal's century in the Deodhar Trophy final in January propelled India A to a score of 286, which ultimately turned out to be 87 runs more than what India B managed. In the Irani Cup fixture in March, Ranji champions Mumbai gained a 297-run first innings lead, before setting a 480-run target for 'Rest of India' (ROI). Fazal went on to hammer a match-winning 127 that anchored ROI's stunning chase of the steep target, helping them win by four wickets.
His batting prowess aside, Fazal could come in handy for Team India with his medium-pace as well, having registered a four-wicket haul against his name in the past. It remains to be seen whether he can make the most of the big opportunity that he has been presented with.
The youngster from Palghar, a small town in Maharashtra, has the least IPL experience among those selected in India's Test squad for the tour of West Indies. However, he has been a vital part of Mumbai's squad in recent times and is one of the key seamers in the outfit alongside Dhawal Kulkarni and Balwinder Singh Sandhu.
According to a report in The Indian Express, Thakur travelled over 100 km from Palghar to Churchgate to play cricket during his teenage days. Thakur's initial struggle eventually paid off, as he earned a call-up into the Mumbai squad, ultimately making his first-class debut in the 2012-13 season against Rajasthan.
A short session with Australian pace legend Glenn McGrath in the MRF Pace Academy, as well as bowling alongside the likes of Zaheer Khan in Mumbai, helped shape him early in his career, and the right-arm medium pacer, who clocks between 130-140 kmph on average, gradually rose in the Mumbai ranks over the years.
Thakur's greatest moment was perhaps finishing as the joint-highest wicket-taker, tied with Karnataka's R Vinay Kumar, each having taken 48 wickets. And although he finished seventh in the list the next season, he was Mumbai's highest wicket-taker with 41 scalps, including a 5/26 in the Ranji final.
Thakur did not have the best of times in the IPL, however, playing just one game in his entire career after getting picked up by Kings XI Punjab in 2014. He was in the news after lashing out against the KXIP set-up earlier this month, following which the franchise released him along with two other players.
The closest Thakur has come to experiencing international cricket was playing in the warm-up fixture against the visiting South Africans in late 2015. His figures of 4/70, which included the key wickets of Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla, was another addition to an already impressive portfolio.
Though Thakur might find it hard to make the playing XI, considering the Test squad is packed with leading names like Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, etc, impressive showings in the warm-up games or injuries to the key bowlers might change that.
Apart from Iyer, the Mumbai selectors led by former India speedster Salil Ankola have included India regulars like Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Suryakumar Yadav, Shardul Thakur, Prithvi Shaw for the camp.
The decision was taken following a meeting of OCA's Cricket Advisory Committee as Jaffer would replace former state captain Rashmi Ranjan Parida, who was at the helm for two seasons.
India vs Sri Lanka: Shikhar Dhawan says visitors can try out players Virat Kohli, Ravi Shastri have in mind for T20 World Cup
Dhawan will lead a young squad with six uncapped players in a six-match limited-overs series against Sri Lanka, which is the last opportunity to check out a few players for the available slots for the marquee event in the UAE, starting 17 October.