IN a rather intriguing development just two days before the second Test, the BCCI announced that Gurkeerat Singh Mann was added to the Indian squad. What was more puzzling is that the press-release was a one-liner that plainly announced Gurkeerat’s inclusion. There was no mention of the team suffering from any injury concerns or anyone missing out. Not surprisingly, it led to a lot of baffling questions, all regarding what the selectors had seen in the Punjab all-rounder to make him the 17th member of the party, when only last week they had released three players from their original 16 to go and play the Ranji Trophy once they weren’t part of the playing XI in Mohali.
Mann’s Ranji Trophy statistics for the 2015-16 season are quite staggering. He has a batting average of 209 and he’s taken 9 wickets at 8.44 apiece. They might seem a tad exaggerated considering that he’s only played two matches so far. But if he started the season with an unbeaten 201 against Railways in Mohali, he followed it up with figures of 4/14 and 5/38 against Andhra Pradesh at Patiala in the second match.
But does that still merit him a place in the Indian squad for the second Test? For starters, it’s tough to fathom what role he’s been specifically picked for.
With Rohit Sharma, who was the second highest run-scorer on the Sri Lankan tour, already waiting in the wings Gurkeerat is obviously not in the team as a specialist batting option. If it is only about the Punjab all-rounder’s ability with the ball that could get him the nod, let’s not forget that Rohit too can roll his arm over with some useful off-spin. He in fact has two Test victims, both of them quality batsmen in Mitchell Marsh and Gary Ballance. And the fact remains that five of Gurkeerat’s nine victims were Andhra Pradesh tail-enders and most of the others still not proven performers even at domestic level.
So if India did want to have an extra batting option—not a totally unadvisable ploy considering they only totalled 401 runs for the loss of all 20 wickets at Mohali—but not completely compromise on their spin attack, Rohit would still get the nod ahead of Gurkeerat. Or so you would think. And then there’s always Murali Vijay, another handy off-spinner who has provided relief to the regular bowlers on occasions before. And based on the conditions so far, it’s unlikely that India will go in with only one fast bowler, with Ishant Sharma especially back from suspension.