The most suspenseful part of the squad for the South Africa Test series came at the end, when acting BCCI secretary Amitabh Choudhary announced in his drawling tone, “and finally…Jasprit Bumrah”. The Gujarat seamer’s inclusion in the 17-member squad, which was picked by the MSK Prasad-chaired selection committee meeting, might not have induced gasps, for Bumrah was widely tipped to be in the squad if India were to pick five seamers, which they generally do for overseas trips.
The only apprehension to induct him surrounded on his limited first-class appearances this year. He has missed the entire Ranji season—he was advised to take a break—and his last first-class fixture was as far back as January, Gujarat’s semifinal against Jharkhand, in which he snared six wickets for 29 runs in the second innings to orchestrate Gujarat’s win. He, though, missed the final due to national commitment.
But Prasad felt that his overall performance deserved to be rewarded with a Test call-up. “If you see his performance in the last 18 months, he’s been phenomenal. He’s been sensational and has done outstandingly well in both one-day and T20 (picked 35 wickets across formats). Considering the Ranji Trophy he played last year where he bowled brilliantly in the whole season, we have no doubts,” Prasad said. His selection, according to him, “was a unanimous choice”. He reasons that he would add “variety to the pace attack”. “Considering the nature of wickets there, it will definitely suit his bowling.”
Bumrah, in several ways, is the most unique bowler in the squad, with his slinging action that’s difficult to pick for first-timers, the pinpoint toe-crushers at supersonic speed, which he intersperses with a sharp and accurate bouncer. He has, of late, added a knuckleball and off-cutter to his repertoire, making him an indispensable entity in short-form cricket. Not to discount the in-swing he generates against right-handers.
Bumrah’s inclusion though meant that left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav, despite the promise he has shown at this level, would miss out, which always seemed the case, as a third spinner is mostly redundant in overseas climes, and more so when one of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin is likely to sit out of the eleven. There was no choice, says Prasad: “I really feel unfortunate for Kuldeep. Definitely he would have added variety, but we are going to play only three Test matches. Considering to play Kuldeep ahead of No.1 and No.2 spinners in the world is a bit of a big ask.”
Another spot that had more than one competitor might have been the second wicket-keeper slot. But Prasad dwelled on the heart Parthiv Patel has shown in his fleeting appearances. “When we had given an opportunity against England he did beyond our expectations. We all know that Wriddhiman Saha is the side’s No.1 wicketkeeper, but we still need to have a back-up wicketkeeper. Right now he is the next-best wicketkeeper that we have in India. His domestic performances are also equally good,” he pointed out.
In the three Tests he played against England, he not only kept wickets adeptly—which has been always his bugbear in selection meetings—and made crucial runs, especially as the makeshift opener in Mohali, where he scored 42 and 67 not out, before wrapping up the series with a fluent 71 in Chennai. The rest of them, as Prasad repeated throughout the interaction, picked themselves, making the meeting “one of the quickest we had.”
“We are going there as the No.1 Test team. We are going with a very good confidence. Everybody is in very good form. Hence, on that basis, I am saying this is a good, balanced side,” he said. A large touring party automatically meant there are no standbys.
New faces in T20 squad
Tamil Nadu all-rounder Washington Sundar, Baroda batsman Deepak Hooda and Kerala fast bowler Basil Thampi, all of who haven’t represented the country in any format, were picked for the T20 series for Sri Lanka. Saurashtra’s left-arm medium pacer too earned a comeback to the national side after a year in the Rohit Sharma-led team. Hyderabad fast bowler Mohammed Suraj, who leaked 53 runs on T20I debut against New Zealand last month, too was retained. “All these players have been doing really well in domestic cricket. After doing well in domestic cricket we have given them opportunities in India A tours to South Africa and against New Zealand here. Considering all those performances and taking performances of the top-class IPL we have considered these names.”
India Test squad for SA tour: Virat Kohli (c), Lokesh Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vc), Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha, Parthiv Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Burmah, Hardik Pandya.
India’s T20I squad for SL series: Rohit Sharma (c), Lokesh Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya, Washington Sundar, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Deepak Hooda, Mohd Siraj, Basil Thampi, Jaydev Unadkat.