There is a question mark over KL Rahul’s fitness as the national selectors meet in Mumbai on Wednesday to pick the India squad for the forthcoming five-Test series against England beginning in Rajkot on November 9.
Rahul had suffered a right hamstring injury during the first Test against New Zealand, which ruled him out of the remaining part of the recently concluded three-match series. He was supposed to return to action for Karnataka, his state team, for the third round of the Ranji Trophy. Rahul, however, didn’t show up. “He wasn’t fit yet. He wasn’t 100 per cent, which is why he didn’t feature in our Ranji Trophy game against Assam. I have no idea if he would be fit for the England series. That’s not my prerogative also. He wasn’t fully fit as far as our last match was concerned,” Karnataka coach J Arun Kumar told The Indian Express.
The MSK Prasad-led selection committee will get an update on Rahul’s fitness ahead of the meeting tomorrow. They will decide accordingly. If the opener is passed fit, he walks in. The 24-year-old is one of the most improved Indian batsmen of late. A tally of 236 runs at 78.66, including a century and a half-century, in three Tests in the Caribbean helped Rahul cement his place as Murali Vijay’s opening partner. At Green Park also, he looked to be in fine fettle while scoring 32 and 38 respectively in the two innings. Little wonder then that BCCI secretary Ajay Shirke had described Rahul’s injury as “very unfortunate”.
The Karnataka batsman’s availability, or non-availability, throws open two different possibilities. With Rahul in the side, there could be a keen contest between Shikhar Dhawan and Gautam Gambhir for the reserve opener’s slot. The latter had been drafted in as a cover following Rahul’s injury in Kanpur. Dhawan duly played the second Test against New Zealand in Kolkata but suffered a left thumb fracture. It paved the way for Gambhir to turn up for India after over two years and the veteran scored a 56-ball 50 in the second innings in Indore, providing the necessary impetus as the team played for declaration. Gambhir is also fresh from his 147 in the Ranji Trophy fixture against Orissa. Dhawan didn’t play the match for Delhi and the selectors await an update on his recovery.
A fit Dhawan will present a selection dilemma. According to a source close to the selection panel, there’s a school of thought that Dhawan deserves a longer rope because he is an impact player. Only one half-century in his last 14 Test innings, however, attests inconsistency. Then again, the left-hander sets up the game for his team when he gets going. A 147-ball 84 at North Sound in July was a case in point. Dhawan had the laid the foundation for India’s victory charge before Virat Kohli’s double hundred took the game away from the opposition. But successive failures ensued and Dhawan eventually lost his place to Rahul. Still, dropping Dhawan might mean all these years spent on him are wasted.
Gambhir’s ability to play spin was a major reason for his recall. In fact, chief selector MSK Prasad vetoed team management’s choice (Karun Nair) to bring the 35-year-old back to the fold. With turning pitches being the winning formula on home soil, Gambhir got the nod with an eye on the long season ahead. It will be interesting to see if he is retained the for the England series. A lot will depend on Rahul and Dhawan’s fitness. Nair, picked as reinforcement for the third Test against New Zealand following Dhawan’s injury, remains as a stand-by.
On the face of it, the selection committee doesn’t have much to mull on. India have won four Test series in a row – the latest being a 3-0 whitewash of the Kiwis. They are unbeaten in 13 Tests, and the majority of the squad selects itself. But injuries have made things a little complicated. Bhuvneshwar Kumar sustained a back injury during the second Test against New Zealand, and he hasn’t played any cricket since. The Uttar Pradesh seamer had been instrumental in India’s victory against West Indies at Gros Islet and New Zealand in Kolkata with a couple of five-fors, but without game time his match fitness should be under the scanner. The team, however, has a like-for-like replacement in Shardul Thakur. Ishant Sharma, on the other hand, has played two Ranji Trophy matches after recovering from chikungunya and is likely to be included.
The Poms are still smarting over their Mirpur meltdown and R Ashwin will be a huge upgrade on the callow Bangladesh offie Mehedi Hasan Miraz. Ashwin is in the form of his life and will be raring to go after a well-deserved rest in the ODI series against the Blackcaps. His spin bowling partner Ravindra Jadeja, too, will be fresh after the ODI break and the duo will have an in-form Amit Mishra for company. If the selectors pick a 16-member squad with an additional spinner, Haryana offie Jayant Yadav will get in. The latter had been part of the Indian Test squad against New Zealand before making his ODI debut in Vizag.
Asked, if the squad would be picked for the first three Tests or all five, Shirke said: “That’s for the selectors to decide tomorrow.”