India selectors stuck to the same 16-man squad that beat Bangladesh by 208 runs in the one-off Test for the upcoming four-match Test series against Australia. And that doesn’t come as much of a surprise. The only real piece of contention was on Mohammad Shami’s fitness and what that could mean for the bowling setup where Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have excelled. But as things transpired, Shami was not picked as he hasn’t played any cricket since the knee injury in the second Test against England and there has been no clarity on his progress either. Having said that, this Indian team is strong and good enough to take on any side in the world and in any conditions on any pitches.
Going back four years, when India beat Australia 4-0, India had similar concerns in the opening department while the rest of the squad looked to be set – a situation eerily similar to now. Then Gautam Gambhir had been suffering a run drought with no century in three years and pressure being applied by fellow Delhi batsman Shikhar Dhawan and Wasim Jaffar. Dhawan was selected in the squad and made his mark to take the opportunity while Jaffar had reason to feel hard done by despite a good showing in the domestic cricket.
Now, KL Rahul and Murali Vijay have had issues here and there but it isn’t as much a reason for concern. When Rahul doesn’t score, Vijay chips in and vice-versa. As a backup, Virat Kohli-led India have the services of Abhinav Mukund but his involvement in the final XI looks unlikely for the first Test atleast.
Two of the most important members of the current setup are R Ashwin and Kohli. The first has been in superb form and has been enjoying tremendous support from Ravindra Jadeja. In the 2013 series, Ashwin finished as the man of the series with 29 wickets in four matches but now he’s added plenty to his repertoire with variety and reading of the game. Further, he’s evolved as a bowler to test batsmen away from the sub-continent too.
Whereas Kohli was a younger batsman in 2013, yet hungry for success and runs, the expectations have changed since. And he’s delivered more than anyone would have expected – that too while donning the captain’s armband. He comes into the four match Test series with four double centuries in back-to-back series against West Indies, New Zealand, England and Bangladesh having already scored the most runs in a single home season. Things are expected to get tougher for him but if there is someone who doesn’t budge from a challenge, it is Virat Kohli.
The four-match Test series begins on Feb 23 with the first game in Pune followed by Bengaluru, Ranchi and Dharamsala. The squad announced on Tuesday is only for the first two Tests.