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News

To pick or not to pick Shreyas Iyer - the big question for India's selectors

The selection panel led by Ajit Agarkar will meet on Friday to pick India's squad for the last three Tests against England

Nagraj Gollapudi
09-Feb-2024
Shreyas Iyer has had a lean time of it in the first two Tests  •  Getty Images

Shreyas Iyer has had a lean time of it in the first two Tests  •  Getty Images

Retain Shreyas Iyer or drop him? That is set to be one of the first questions for the selection panel when it meets on Friday evening to pick India's squad for the three remaining Tests of the England series.
ESPNcricinfo has learned that Iyer had informed the team management that he had experienced back spasms a day or two after the end of the second Test in Visakhapatnam, which India won to level the series 1-1. The BCCI medical staff, though, are understood to have cleared Iyer for selection.
Apart from Rohit Sharma, Iyer is the only senior India batter to not register a significant score in the first two Tests - he made 35 and 13 in Hyderabad and 27 and 29 in Visakhapatnam. Considered one of India's best batters against spin, Iyer has, however, struggled to find fluency, struggling both in his defence and in his strokeplay.
Insiders believe Iyer's struggles could be a result of him feeling stiffness in his back as he bats for long periods. A pinched nerve in his lower back flared up originally during the fourth and final Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in 2023. Last April, he had undergone back surgery to deal with a slipped disc, which had caused him "excruciating pain" and made him doubtful about his future.
Iyer then missed the IPL, where he leads Kolkata Knight Riders, but returned to play for India in the Asia Cup. However, recurring back spasms restricted his involvement to just two matches. But a successful ODI World Cup, where Iyer played impact innings in the middle order - including in the semi-final against New Zealand - suggested he had completely recovered.
Dropped from India's T20I squad in the home series against Afghanistan in January, Iyer tested his match fitness for the England Test series by playing a Ranji Trophy match for Mumbai against Andhra, where he batted once and scored 48.
While he was in the squad for the first two Tests, there was no assurance that he would be in the XI - he was competing with KL Rahul for one middle-order slot. But once Virat Kohli ruled himself out for the first two Tests for personal reasons, and could be out for longer, Rahul and Iyer got into the XI for the first Test.
Rahul, who was ruled out of second Test because of a quad niggle, is expected to be fit for the second part of the England series. Now the selectors have to decide whether they want to retain Iyer or place their faith in Rajat Patidar, who made his debut in the second Test and impressed with his technique and composure. Not to forget, Sarfaraz Khan was also in the squad for the second Test, but didn't get into the XI.

Bumrah to be rested for fourth or fifth Test?

One other significant talking point for the selectors will be Jasprit Bumrah, who is the leading bowler so far in the series with 15 wickets. While Bumrah has shown no fitness concerns since resuming to play at the World Cup after undergoing back surgery last March, the selectors are understood to have acknowledged the point made by the BCCI medical staff about manging the workload of Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj, both all-format players.
Siraj was rested for the second Test, but is expected to return for the third in Rajkot starting February 15. Bumrah, too, is set to play the match, but is likely to get a break for one of the two final Tests - in Ranchi and Dharamsala.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo