Pant, Kuldeep picked for first three Tests; Bhuvneshwar doubtful
Wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant and left-arm wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav have been picked in India's 18-man squad for the first three Tests in England. While Kuldeep was part of India's squad for the Afghanistan Test in June, this was a maiden Test call-up for Pant, who has followed up a smashing IPL with important innings for the India A side in England. The selectors named the squad for only the first three matches of the five-Test series.
The selectors didn't consider Rohit Sharma's two limited-overs centuries on the tour enough reason to hand him a Test comeback, with India A captain Karun Nair continuing to hold the spot of the extra middle-order batsman.
India had problems in the bowling department with Bhuvneshwar Kumar not named in the squad after he aggravated his lower-back stiffness while playing the ODI series decider a day before the Test squad was announced. Jasprit Bumrah, although named in the squad, will only be available for selection from the second Test on as he recovers from a broken thumb sustained early on the tour in Ireland.
"Bhuvneshwar Kumar aggravated a lower back condition in the 3rd ODI against England," the BCCI release said. "His condition is being assessed by the BCCI medical team and a call on his inclusion in the Test squad will be made soon."
Bhuvneshwar will be assessed by a specialist in London, and a decision will then be taken if he comes back to India or stays in England for rehab. The early assessment is not very optimistic according to sources. If Bhuvneshwar is ruled out of the Test series, it is bound to raise question marks over his inclusion in the third ODI after he had sat out the first two with the same issue. At the toss, Kohli had said it was not a tactical decision to play Bhuvneshwar; he said he wanted to give all the fast bowlers a chance in the series. In the match, Bhuvneshwar didn't look at his best, bowling seven overs for 49 runs and dropping a catch.
About Bumrah, the release said: "Jasprit Bumrah, who has been included in the squad, will be available for selection from the 2nd Test onwards based on his fitness."
Kohli would have been aware of the injury concerns to both his limited-overs strike bowlers but put up a brave face on Tuesday, when asked how ready India were for the Test series. At the post-match presentation after losing the ODI series 2-1, Kohli said the selectors and the team management did not need to take any hard decisions. "Our squad is pretty settled. We are really excited to be going into a lengthy Test series. It is going to be very challenging, but something that we are looking forward to as a side. We want to play hard cricket. We want to play tough cricket, which I'm sure the English team would provide us. It is going to be a hard-fought series between two quality sides."
It wasn't all doom and gloom, however. Mohammed Shami, who missed most of the IPL with personal issues and then turned up unfit for India training, has cleared the mandatory yo-yo test to force his way back into the squad. The other three quicks available for selection for the first Test were Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur.
The selectors resisted the temptation of handing out Test selection based on limited-overs performances two matches after captain Virat Kohli had said Kuldeep and fellow wristspinner Yuzvendra Chahal had made a serious case for Test selection. Kuldeep, part of the squad for the Afghanistan Test, was retained as the third spinner, but Chahal, who last played a first-class match in December 2016, was not included. India's two big match-winners at home, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, were retained.
While the selectors seem to have resisted flamboyant picks, they did select a bolter in Pant, who originally wasn't even part of the four-day leg of the A side's tour. As it emerged that Wriddhiman Saha was not going to recover from his injury in time, India needed a back-up wicketkeeper for Dinesh Karthik. The choice was between going back to Parthiv Patel and looking to the future. Pant helped his own case with an unbeaten 67 in a successful chase of 321 against West Indies A in Taunton. He was unbeaten on 37 in the ongoing match against England Lions at the time of the announcement of the squad.
Pant averages 54.16 in first-class cricket with a strike rate of 98.54, which has led observers to wonder if he could play an Adam Gilchrist-like role in India's Test side. However, Pant failed to grab his opportunities on the A tour of South Africa last year. The last first-class season went without a century, but he has been in red-hot form since the start of the IPL.