Sanju Samson got his first India call up in 2014, for the short-format leg of the tour of England. From the sidelines and while occasionally running drinks, he watched India win the ODI series by the fourth game. Yet, he was ignored for the fifth. He wasn’t picked in the lone T20 in Birmingham either. And by the time the side returned home for a ODI series against the West Indies, he was dropped from the squad altogether.
Similarly, Sandeep Sharma and Manish Pandey got their maiden respective call-ups for the short-format tour of Zimbabwe in 2015. Like Samson, they too have run drinks tirelessly in the first two ODIs in Harare and witnessed the team seal the ODI series before the final game.
But unlike Samson, and possibly with him (he has been flown in for the injured Ambati Rayudu for the remainder of this tour), Sharma and Pandey could well be earning their first India caps at the Harare Sports Club on Tuesday.
India have tried out as many as ten first-timers on this very soil over the last two tours. Couple that with the fact that Robin Uthappa has been struggling on both sides of the stumps (a total of 13 runs plus missed stumpings and conceding plenty of byes), and wicketkeeper-batsman Samson is in with a chance in the final ODI — despite having flown in a few hours earlier.
If not in the ODIs, the 20-year old from Kerala is more or less guaranteed a spot in the following T20s for two reasons. His Rajasthan Royals pedigree (he won the Emerging Player award in 2014) and the fact that the selectors will consider this tour and a few more ahead as try-outs for finding a back-up for MS Dhoni in the World T20 at home next year.
The man who is all but assured a debut on Tuesday is Manish Pandey, given that Rayudu has returned home injured and the side’s middle-order of Manoj Tiwary, Kedar Jadhav and Uthappa haven’t scored more than 60 runs between them in six innings.
That leaves us with Sharma, the 22-year-old pacer from Punjab who has shone with 30-plus wickets in each of the last two seasons of the Ranji Trophy (mostly in conducive conditions). Considering that proper team-regular Mohit Sharma is yet to make an appearance in this series, both Sharmas are vying for one spot in a team that has so far used just two specialist pacers, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Dhawal Kulkarni.
Were one of Sandeep or Mohit to feature in the final game, the management will either have to rest Bhuvneshwar, who proved his worth once again in the second ODI with four wickets, or drop Kulkarni, who’s gone at an average of 49.5 for his two wickets in the series.
Only five players in this squad of 15 to tour Zimbabwe are fully assured a place in the final ODI. They are captain Ajinkya Rahane himself, Murali Vijay, Stuart Binny, Harbhajan Singh and Axar Patel. Each of them have done enough yet have a point to prove for full-team tours. So that leaves six spots to fill, which should give the three debutants plenty of hope to not return to India as uncapped players.