India's bench strength is currently the world's envy. Whoever the India management has put up in recent times, to either replace an injured player or hand a well-deserved debut, has passed with flying colours. Is it because of pure talent, years of hard work or just beginner's luck? ESPNcricinfo explores
He walked into his debut Test when the Indian openers were considered walking wickets in New Zealand and Australia. Against a full-strength Australia attack and thereafter on tricky Indian surfaces against England, he averaged 34.36 with three half-centuries in seven matches. Unlike some other names on this list, who made their mark due to opportunities courtesy injuries, Gill's entry into the XI was to make up for the poor form of Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal.
Why his success is not surprising: He overcame English conditions as a 17-year-old to dominate a white-ball series against England Under-19. That started a run of overseas tours that culminated in a Player-of-the-Tournament performance at the 2018 Under-19 World Cup. In India A tours, he has hit double-hundreds in New Zealand and the West Indies. Before his Test debut, Gill had hit seven centuries and 11 half-centuries in 23 first-class games on three different continents at an average of 68.78. Throw in facing the best bowlers as an opener in the IPL, playing Pat Cummins, Sunil Narine, and Lockie Ferguson at the Kolkata Knight Riders nets and spending invaluable time with India players during the tour of New Zealand in 2020, and that explains his supreme match-readiness against the world's best.
From his father's death to facing racial abuse on the boundary line in Australia, whatever life has thrown at Siraj over the last six months, he has converted them into positive energy. He made his debut in the second Test against Australia and, by the end of the tour, was leading the pace attack, taking a five-for in Brisbane. After five Tests, he averages 28.25, taking 16 wickets so far. Siraj's standout quality was leading the attack with his consistency and guile with the red ball when India had no senior fast bowlers fit to play.
Why his success is not surprising: Although casual fans would know Siraj from his IPL stints with the Sunrisers Hyderabad and the Royal Challengers Bangalore and an outing in a T20I in Rajkot in 2017, Siraj has been one of the best Indian red-ball fast bowlers for a few seasons. His ability to swing the ball and bowl a mean bouncer made him stand out but it's his 38 first-class games before his Test debut that played a major role in sharpening his skills. Over the last three seasons before his Test debut, Siraj had been a regular for India A, touring England, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies, and had 152 first-class wickets to his name.
Before September 2020, Natarajan was nowhere in the vicinity of the Indian team. But a good IPL 2020 season thrust him into national reckoning in the limited-overs formats. Dismissing some of the best T20 batsmen in the death overs helped Natarajan's stocks rise in white-ball cricket and earned him debuts in the Australia ODIs and T20Is, where he picked eight wickets in four games. Bio-bubble restrictions and injuries to fast bowlers handed him a Test cap as well, and he delivered with three wickets in the historic win in Brisbane.
Why his success is not surprising: According to his former coaches, discipline has been key to Natarajan's growth from playing tennis-ball cricket to internationals. Unlike Siraj - who was bought at IPL 2017 by the Sunrisers alongside him - Natarajan focused mostly on one format, T20s. That helped him dominate the TNPL and develop a cool head to bowl in high-pressure situations. He once bowled six yorkers in the last over of a TNPL final and played key roles in Tamil Nadu winning the 2019 Vijay Hazare Trophy and the 2020 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Natarajan's ability to consistently deliver yorkers and tinker with his pace has also made him a potent weapon. Being a left-arm seamer in international cricket helps, too.
With Rohit Sharma rested and Shikhar Dhawan dropped, Kishan was given the chance to open for India in the second T20I against England, and he ended up with a Player-of-the-Match performance. He hit five fours and four sixes in a 32-ball blitzkrieg of 56 when the pressure was high, given India had lost the series opener and his opening partner KL Rahul was out for a duck in the first over. He failed in his second game and then got injured. But given his T20 exploits, Kishan is here to stay and is being seen as one of India's X-factors for the upcoming T20 World Cup at home later this year.
Why his success is not surprising: The switch from the Gujarat Lions to the Mumbai Indians before IPL 2018 has been pivotal to changing Kishan's career. No longer a regular wicketkeeper at the Mumbai Indians and batting higher than he previously did, Kishan married his explosive shot-making with better choice of strokes to become a regular in one of the world's best T20 franchises. Kishan has always been fearless, but he has added a dash of experience to it. It helps when you spend large periods with the likes of Sharma, Kieron Pollard, Mahela Jayawardene and face Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult in the nets. He has also gained experience playing white-ball games for India A.
Another beneficiary of the injuries on the Australia tour and the large squads teams carry in bio-bubbles these days, Sundar was asked to stay back for the Tests after the ODIs and T20Is. It wasn't long before he was thrown in at the deep end with a Test debut for the final match - with the series on the line - with R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja injured. It was the first time he was playing a red-ball game since November 2017. And yet, he contributed with four wickets and a half-century to play a key role in India ending Australia's 'Gabbatoir' dominance. He then played three Tests against England, scoring an unbeaten 85 on a tricky Chennai surface and then an unbeaten 96 in the final Ahmedabad Test. In six innings, he averages 66.25 with the bat.
Why his success is not surprising: Simply put, Sundar is prodigiously talented. Before making his India debut in T20Is as a teenager, he was opening with the bat in the TNPL and opening with the ball at the IPL. Over time, he was given more responsibility at the Royal Challengers Bangalore, Tamil Nadu, and India, which allowed him to strengthen his game to evolve into a true allrounder. That he doesn't bat much for India in T20Is or for the Royal Challengers has never been a reflection of his skill but of the talent those teams' batting line-ups have. His batting technique is rock solid, his stroke-making fluent and, his temperament of a seasoned player.
Having had an initiation into international cricket with the white ball in 2019, a promotion to Test cricket was always on the cards for the fast bowler. Injuries to India's first-choice bowlers in Australia meant he played in the last two Tests. Although an average of 43 - with four wickets in two Tests - isn't very flattering, it is important to remember Saini suffered a groin strain on the first morning of his second Test. It was a commendable start to his Test career considering there was no Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, or Bhuvneshwar Kumar to offer him advice on the field.
Why his success is not surprising: Saini has been a dominant force in red-ball cricket for Delhi since 2014. Alongside Ishant Sharma, he took Delhi to the Ranji Trophy final in 2017 and since 2018 has been rubbing shoulders with the big boys of Indian cricket as part of the Deodhar Trophy, India A and senior squads. Playing for India A, he has troubled visiting teams and in 2019 got a taste of high-stage when he was part of the stand-bys during India's ODI World Cup campaign. In the IPL, the responsibility of leading an inexperienced Royal Challengers attack also helped his growth. Before his Test debut, he had played 46 first-class games.
With 27 wickets in his first three Tests at an average of 10.59, Patel has made one of the best starts by any bowler in the longest format. Over eight years on from making his first-class debut, Patel got injured on the eve of what would have been his Test debut in the series opener against England, but he then made full use of his opportunity through Tests two to four. His performance was so superlative that Jadeja's absence was barely felt.
Why his success is not surprising: The pitches against England were helpful to spinners but Patel is an experienced campaigner, having represented Gujarat, a side that consistently does well in the Ranji Trophy. Besides, he has played a lot of red-ball cricket when he hasn't been part of India's white-ball squads. He isn't a big turner of the ball, relying instead on consistency and subtle changes. That Patel is a special cricketer was on display when he was the only player retained by Kings XI Punjab (now Punjab Kings) ahead of IPL 2018. He has also played first-class cricket in England, for Durham. If Jadeja was not around, chances are we might have seen Patel much earlier in Tests.
On an emotional ODI debut, he came in to bat in the 41st over of the first innings and went on to pummel the reigning world champions around for an unbeaten 31-ball 58. That helped India post a par first-innings total, after which he took 1 for 59. With the bat, Krunal did what is typically expected of his younger brother Hardik Pandya or even Rishabh Pant. With the ball, he took on a role similar to Jadeja's.
Why his success is not surprising: The Mumbai Indians' scouts picked Krunal and Hardik up from Baroda when they were relatively unheralded and invested time and energy in the pair to turn them into the match-winners over the years. Krunal was always known to possess the smarts, particularly with the ball, and he gradually added finesse to his batting. Three IPL titles, with crucial contributions in each of them, is testament to his mental strength too. In fact, he has even been Player of the Series for India in T20Is previously. Questions, however, hovered for a long time over his aptitude for 50-over cricket. But his 388 runs in five games at an average of 129.33 in the latest edition of the Vijay Hazare Trophy quelled those doubts.
Although he did not get to bat on his T20I debut, his next two outings for India resulted in victories where Yadav played important roles. On his maiden batting innings, he hammered a 31-ball 57 when Sharma, Rahul, and Virat Kohli failed and took home the Player-of-the-Match award. In the series decider, he showed a lot of clarity in his choice of shots while scoring a 17-ball 32.
Why his success is not surprising: Yadav is known to possess a match-winner's mentality, having honed his skills on the domestic circuit in Mumbai, Indian cricket's perennial powerhouse. However, his focus wavered for a while a few years ago due to a combination of poor batting form and being a hothead. But that all changed when, in the IPL, he moved back from the Knight Riders to the Mumbai Indians some years ago. There he bloomed once again as the fluent top-order batsman he was always known to be, and a boost in his self-confidence along with maturity on the personal front has made him one of the most exciting Indian batsmen in the shortest format.
Manjrekar: Prasidh Krishna is a talented bowler who has his basics right
Krishna took 4 for 54 to hand India a come-from-behind victory on his ODI debut. At 135 for 0 in the 15th over, England were cruising in a 318 chase but Krishna removed Jason Roy to get his maiden scalp. He then dismissed Ben Stokes, Sam Billings and Tom Curran to derail England's chase and was a contender to bag the Man-of-the-Match award in his first international. Krishna came back after a terrible first three overs, where he had an economy rate of over 12, to finish with the best figures by an India debutant in ODIs.
Why his success is not surprising: Krishna believes "consistency is the best weapon" a bowler can have, and he has shown that in plenty in domestic cricket. In his first two Vijay Hazare Trophy competitions (2016-17 and 2017-18), he took 30 wickets, the most for Karnataka. Time with the Knight Riders has helped him become the side's best domestic pace bowler and develop a knack for delivering match-winning performances - most notably a 3 for 37 in the 2017-2018 domestic 50-over tournament's final - in vital games for Karnataka. Nicknamed 'Skiddy' due to his ability to bowl quicker than what appears, Krishna has also added muscle to his body, which has made him stronger in the last two years. He was one of the standout pace bowlers in the 2019-20 Vijay Hazare Trophy.