Rohit Sharma will fly to Australia over the weekend after the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru cleared him following a final assessment, which included tests of both his skills and his fitness. ESPNcricinfo understands that Sharma will take a charter flight from Mumbai to Dubai, from where he will fly to Sydney on December 13 and be available for selection for the last two Tests of the four-match series.
Upon reaching Sydney, Sharma has to undergo a mandatory hard quarantine of 14 days in a facility separate from the bio-secure bubble in which the Indian Test squad is currently in. That, as reported by ESPNcricinfo earlier, will prevent him from being in the mix for the first two Tests (December 17 to 21 in Adelaide and December 26 to 30 in Melbourne). Sharma is expected to integrate with the Indian squad after Christmas in Melbourne, subject to the travel restrictions between Sydney and Melbourne, and should then be in contention for the final two Tests, in Sydney from January 7 and in Brisbane from January 15.
It is understood that the NCA, helmed by former India captain Rahul Dravid, sent Sharma's final assessment report to the BCCI in the last two days.
There had been confusion around Sharma's status - and availability for the Australia Tests - over the past few weeks, with even captain Virat Kohli saying that he had been kept in the dark on the subject. Sharma had initially been left out of India's tour because of the hamstring injury he picked up during the IPL, with the BCCI saying he would be "monitored". Sharma sat out four matches for the Mumbai Indians in the IPL after picking up the injury, but returned - after being left out of the squads for the Australia tour - to lead his team to the title. He was subsequently named in the squad for the last two Tests, subject to how his rehabilitation at NCA went. Sharma had travelled to the NCA mid-November to carry out his rehabilitation, and left for Mumbai on Thursday.
He is fit to travel now, but it is unclear what the protocols for Sharma's integration into India's bio-secure bubble in Australia are. While there is the question on whether he will come out match ready after a 14-day quarantine, the eight-day gap between the second and third Tests - which begins on January 7 - is understood to have encouraged the management to have the senior batsman in the mix.
At the NCA, in addition to the medical staff, Sharma was monitored by both Dravid and Sunil Joshi, the chief selector. Dravid and Joshi focussed on Sharma's skillsets. The BCCI wanted Sharma to go to NCA to get proper training and treatment on his hamstring before he could be considered fit for Test cricket; Sharma made the cut with both his batting and his fielding.
For Sharma, the hamstring injury was the second major one he picked up this year after tearing his calf earlier on in New Zealand, which had ruled him out of the Test leg of the tour. Then, on October 18, while taking a tight single in an IPL 2020 league match against the Kings XI Punjab, Sharma tore his left hamstring.
On November 9, in an update on Sharma, the BCCI said the selectors had decided to "rest" the batsman in order for him to complete his rehabilitation and be in contention for the Test leg in Australia. Sharma then travelled back to India immediately after the IPL to attend to his ailing father, who is well now.
It is understood that both the BCCI and the selectors wanted to be fully convinced about Sharma's fitness considering the expected workload in Test match cricket, when compared to the IPL, and didn't want to send him Australia with the rest of the squad from the UAE. Also, if he had gone directly to Australia, he might not have received the attention he did at the NCA, considering India were playing white-ball cricket.
Sharma is expected to continue with his fitness sessions during quarantine in Sydney.
Sharma's addition to the Test squad is a big boost for India, especially because Kohli will return to India after the first Test to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.
Reporting by Nagraj Gollapudi and Varun Shetty