Moments after he returned to the dressing room at the Reliance Stadium in Vadodara, Board President’s XI opener Mayank Agarwal was ‘unofficially’ told of being selected in the Test squad for the two matches against the West Indies. Agarwal made 90 against the visitors during the tour game. However, it was his body of work, rather than Saturday’s knock, that earned him a maiden call-up.
The Karnataka batsman has been knocking on the door with a bucketful of runs — over 2,000 across all formats last season. If the selectors needed further proof of his rich vein of form, Agarwal produced it with a double hundred against South Africa A and a century during a quadrangular series this season. It forced chief selector MSK Prasad to say, after the Asia Cup squad was picked, that Agarwal would “get his due soon”.
Agarwal’s Karnataka and BPXI teammate Karun Nair will feel hard done by the selectors decision to drop him from the squad, though, as he did not get a game during the two-month long tour of England.
The process of Agarwal’s elevation was fast-tracked because opener Shikhar Dhawan could not extend his Test career on the basis of his form in white-ball cricket. Dhawan made 342 runs, the most by any batsman at the Asia Cup, and was named Player of the Tournament, but his failure in tough conditions in England while facing the red ball — 162 runs in 8 innings at 20.25 — sealed his fate.
Fast bowler Mohammed Siraj was the other new face in the Test squad, while uncapped opener Prithvi Shaw and middle-order batsman Hanuma Vihari — 56 and 0 at the Oval on debut — were retained.
Murali Vijay failed to convince selectors to give him another chance despite scores of 56, 100, 85, 80 and 2, while opening for Essex. This means Shaw or Agarwal are likely to open with KL Rahul in the first Test at Rajkot starting on October 4.
The fast bowling unit will be minus three regulars in Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuveshwar Kumar, both of whom were rested, while Ishant Sharma has not recovered from an ankle injury. All-rounder Hardik Pandya’s back is still on the mend and he misses out. Siraj has been among the wickets in domestic cricket this season and his tally of 42 includes innings figures of 8/59 against Australia A in Bangalore.
For Nair, who got zilch game time in England, the exclusion will be a bitter pill to swallow. The middle-order batsman was part of the Test team for the five-match series in England but the team management didn’t pick him. Moreover, Vihari who was selected for the last two Tests, leap-frogged Nair and was handed a Test cap for the fifth and final Test at the Oval. By including Agarwal in the squad — the selectors could no longer ignore his runs — and retaining both Shaw and Vihari, there was no place for Nair with the other batting giants becoming automatic picks. But it will be interesting to know what comforting words, if any, chief selector Prasad — who believes in keeping communication lines with players open — would have for Nair. The home series against West Indies will be played in batting friendly conditions and Nair must be cursing his luck.
Kohli, who was rested for the Asia Cup, will return to lead the side, while the spin department will include R Ashwin, who has recovered from a hip injury, and in-form Ravindra Jadeja, as well as chinaman Kuldeep Yadav.
India squad: Virat Kohli (captain), K L Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur.
In: Mayank Agarwal, Mohammad Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav
Out: Shikhar Dhawan, Karun Nair, Dinesh Karthik
Rested/injured: Ishant Sharma, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah