India's new picks rewarded for domestic form
One of the first points to be discussed at the BCCI captains and coaches conclave at the start of 2015 was to advance the domestic one-day competitions before the Ranji Trophy knockouts in order to give aspirants an opportunity to showcase their ability ahead of the World T20. It was a popular sentiment because the selectors could pick players based on limited-overs form, and not just on their exploits in the first-class arena. That logic has already found merit, as all the new picks in India's limited-overs squads for Australia have performed well for their respective sides in the ongoing Vijay Hazare Trophy. ESPNcricinfo takes a look at the stories behind the latest entrants in India's squads for the Australia tour.
Dhawan has been turning in performances of note season after season for Himachal Pradesh with his seam-ups. He finished the Ranji Trophy 2013-14 season as the highest wicket-taker with 49 scalps from eight matches. He followed that up with 40 wickets from eight matches in 2014-15. This season, he had 28 scalps in eight matches. In addition, he has also contributed 10 fifties and a century lower down the order in Ranji Trophy matches since the 2013-14 season.
Although Himachal's inability to cross the quarter-final qualification hurdle has somewhat overshadowed his individual form, the performances have consistently earned him a place in India A's limited-overs sides in the last couple of seasons.
This time around, Dhawan's match-winning efforts that helped Himachal top their group and qualify for the quarter-finals of the Vijay Hazare Trophy have been duly recognised with a maiden call-up for the ODIs in Australia. His 252 runs across five innings have been accrued at a strike rate of 113.51. Add to this his six scalps with the ball and Dhawan's numbers are the kind that can't be ignored for long. With three more innings to come potentially, Dhawan has an opportunity to further present his case, if the team management need to see more of him.
While his growth as a batsman has been steady, if not spectacular, at the senior level, he has proved time and again that he can be banked on to muscle runs lower down the order. Across the first-class and List A formats, Dhawan has scored five centuries but he considers his best knock to be a half-century that helped India A clinch a thriller in the Quadrangular A series final in Australia last year. With India A needing 73 off the last 10 overs, and only the tail to follow, he held the lower order together and made an unbeaten 56 to take the team home in the penultimate over.
Years later, when Hardik Pandya sits down and reflects on his career, he would realise the 2015 IPL season was his breakthrough moment. That he managed to steal the limelight from some of his more illustrious colleagues like Lasith Malinga, Rohit Sharma and Kieron Pollard, and altered the course of Mumbai Indians' campaign, indicated the giant strides he has taken.
Pandya, a relative unknown until March this year, was primarily picked on the back of a 57-ball 82 in a T20 in 2014, against a Mumbai attack comprising of Zaheer Khan, Dhawal Kulkarni and Pravin Tambe. So impressed was John Wright, a talent scout with Mumbai Indians, that the franchise acquired Pandya for his base price of Rs 10 lakh at the auction in February this year.
His IPL numbers - 112 runs in nine innings - are not staggering. But what they don't show are the two knocks that altered the course of Mumbai's campaign. First an unbeaten eight-ball 21 against Chennai Super Kings that turned an improbable chase into a win, and an unbeaten 31-ball 61 against Kolkata Knight Riders that gave Mumbai a total of substance to defend in a must-win game.
Sanath Kumar, who coached the Baroda team when Pandya first came into the fray two seasons ago, says the boy wasn't an instant hit, but his commitment helped him get noticed. Sanath picks out one game from his memory - against Maharashtra in 2013, which was only Pandya's third T20 match for Baroda. He hit one four and four sixes in his 26-ball 44 to spur a chase that was going nowhere into one where Baroda had a chance. They eventually fell seven runs short.
"He used to bowl leg spin during his Under-19 days, but wasn't going anywhere. So we asked him to work on his batting. He had the strength," Sanath Kumar told ESPNcricinfo. "In a couple of games, he was comfortably outscoring Yusuf Pathan. That is when he realised he had the ability to bat higher up. The fact that he is a sharp bowler and can ease the workload of the main bowlers is an added incentive. He will be an ideal short-format cricketer."
Pandey, Karnataka's leading run-getter in this season's failed Vijay Hazare Trophy campaign with 212 runs in five innings, first made headlines when he was a member of India's Under-19 World Cup-winning team in 2008. But it wasn't until the 2009 IPL, where he became the first Indian batsman to score a century in the tournament, that he was being talked about. Since then, Pandey has been a permanent fixture in Karnataka's squads across formats.
Pandey's first international call-up came in October 2014, when he was picked for the T20s against West Indies. He was denied that opportunity after West Indies pulled out of their tour. He put that disappointment behind him by scoring heavily as Karnataka ran riot in the domestic circles, winning the Ranji Trophy, Irani Cup and Vijay Hazare Trophy for a second successive season.
A Man-of-the-Match winning performance in the IPL 2014 final for Kolkata Knight Riders, followed by a decent tour of Australia with India A meant Pandey was back in the selection ring. An international debut came in Zimbabwe this year, where he made 71, in a 144-run, fifth-wicket stand to steer India out of troubled waters.
"The Zimbabwe tour went well. I performed well on my debut, so I knew I would be there in the mix," he said soon after his call-up. "Doing well in an international match gives you the confidence. I didn't look at my selection for Zimbabwe as a stop-gap arrangement."
With Suresh Raina and Ambati Rayudu left out of the ODI squad, Pandey, who wasn't considered for the South Africa series at home, couldn't have asked for a better opportunity than this to cement his place in the line-up.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo