After the ODI series win against Sri Lanka at home, a tougher test awaits India’s stand-in captain Virat Kohli. With MS Dhoni’s thumb injury not expected to completely heal by the first week of December, Kohli will lead Team India in the opening Test of the Australia tour at Gabba, a venue known for its pacy track.
Announcing this, the BCCI in a press release stated: “Virat Kohli will lead India in the first Test, starting December 4, in Brisbane. MS Dhoni has been rested for the first Test as a prophylactic measure to ensure optimum recovery. He will join the team from the second Test onwards, and will lead the team for the rest of the Test series.”
Dhoni’s unavailability also meant the selectors, who met in Mumbai on Monday, had to pick a 19-member squad that includes Wriddhiman Saha and Naman Ojha as the reserve wicket-keepers. BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel, however, clarified that the squad strength is actually 18 as Ojha will return after the first Test.
“Basically it’s not 19. It will be 18. For the first Test, Ojha will be there to replace Dhoni in case there’s a need for a second wicket-keeper. As soon as the first Test is over and Dhoni joins the team, Ojha will come back,” he said. About Dhoni’s injury he said: “Dhoni has an injured right thumb but he is recovering. His doctor decided that he needs to rest for the first Test.”
The other ‘selection day’ talking point was the inclusion of young Karnataka opener KL Rahul. With 1,033 runs at 68.86 in the last Ranji season and a century in each innings of the Duleep Trophy final last week, the 22-year-old presented a strong case for himself to be chosen as a reserve opener. Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan are the first-choice openers. “The selectors are very impressed with Rahul. Especially his temperament. It was an easy choice,” said a source close to the selection committee.
Leg-spinner Karn Sharma, too, got into the squad and it rounded off a glorious year for the 27-year-old which began with a Rs 3.75 crore IPL contract with Sunrisers Hyderabad. In between, he toured England as a part of India’s limited-overs squad and made his T20 international debut in Birmingham. Suresh Raina has been brought back to the Test fold for the first time since September 2012. Impressed with his batting form in limited-overs cricket, the selectors decided to give him one more chance.
Meanwhile, Rohit Sharma, Robin Uthappa, Kedar Jadhav, Karn Sharma and R Vinay Kumar have been brought in for the dead rubbers against Sri Lanka in Kolkata and Ranchi. Dhawan and Jadeja have been rested. Wriddhiman Saha and Murali Vijay have been left out, while Ishant Sharma is sidelined with a stiff back.
“Ishant is undergoing rehab. He’s under physio’s guidance but will travel with the team. For training part and all, it has been decided that he should travel,” Patel said.
As for Saha’s omission, he explained: “Nothing wrong with Saha but we wanted to give a chance to other players and test them before the World Cup. It would be between Uthappa and Ambati Rayudu to ‘keep in the last two matches. In fact, today we discussed a lot about the future strategies…World Cup and beyond. It was the prime focus of this meeting.”