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With options available for every spot, India can field two Test teams

India’s recent Test triumphs have showcased the staggering reservoir of talent available at the team’s disposal.

Written by Vishal Menon | New Delhi |
Updated: March 7, 2021 7:47:18 am
India beat England on Saturday. (BCCI TV)

India’s recent Test triumphs have showcased the staggering reservoir of talent available at the team’s disposal. Skipper Virat Kohli was on paternity leave during the tour to Australia and a host of other influential players were injured. However, they weren’t missed much as debutants Mohammed Siraj, Shubman Gill, Washington Sundar and Shardul Thakur rose to the occasion.

A similar narrative played out in the just-concluded Test series against England. Axar Patel has proved to be a like-for-like replacement for the proven match winner Ravindra Jadeja. Such has been the confidence of this Indian team that they even allowed pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah to take a break for a game where a place in the World Test Championship final was at stake.

Over the course of these two engrossing Test series, this bench strength meant that Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and KL Rahul – all considered indispensable till six months ago – are now finding it difficult to find a place in the playing XI. Ravi Shastri, India’s head coach summed it up aptly in an interview to Star Sports when he said: “They used to call the Australian team of the 1990s ‘invincible.’ Now they are calling this side the ‘irrepressible.’”

Here’s a lowdown of India’s options for every position in the playing XI and how it can actually field two very competitive Test teams.

Openers

Following the retirements of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, India have finally zeroed in on a settled opening combination comprising Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill. On the bench is Mayank Agarwal, who till six months back, was India’s incumbent Test opener. Nevertheless, Agarwal remains a tantalising option at the top of the batting order. Then, there’s Prithvi Shaw, who has been seen as Sehwag’s natural successor.

Middle-order

It’s a fairly settled mix consisting of Cheteshwar Pujara, captain Kohli and his deputy Ajinkya Rahane. There are others waiting in the wings like KL Rahul, who is keen to show the world that he is not just a treat to watch in white-ball cricket alone.

Hanuma Vihari, a regular in Test cricket over the last two years, too is around. After his epic rear-guard with Ravichandran Ashwin in the Sydney Test, he has been undergoing a lengthy rehab at the NCA in Bengaluru. The fact that Vihari has to now play the waiting game despite his heroics in Sydney is another indicator of this team’s bench strength.

Wicket-keeping options

Rishabh Pant has sealed his spot in the playing XI as the first-choice wicket-keeper. The 23-year-old’s blitzkrieg in Ahmedabad has pushed veteran Wriddhiman Saha, arguably the finest keeper in the country, down in the pecking order. There’s also Ishan Kishan and Sanju Samson, who have displayed their repertoire as swashbuckling batsmen in the IPL, breathing down their necks.

Spinners

Ashwin and Jadeja are the leaders of the pack. Patel and Sundar are credible options, with their handy contributions with the bat down the order giving the team balance. Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav gives the team a variety that not many teams have. White ball specialist leggie Yuzvendra Chahal too is pushing for a Test match call-up. Left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem is also in the mix.

Pacers
Most international teams would have struggled to find replacements for quality pacers like Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar and Ishant Sharma. But Siraj, Navdeep Saini and T Natarajan filled their shoes and provided the team’s spearhead Bumrah able support. Such has been their dominance that Bhuvneshwar and Umesh are now finding it tough to get their spots back in the Test-match playing XI.

India vs India

Such is the depth of India’s talent pool that based on the performance of players in the series against Australia and England, two internationally competitive teams can be formed.

Fourth Test vs England Playing XI: Rohit Sharma, Shubhman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, Washington Sundar, Mohammad Siraj, Ishant Sharma.

Non-Playing XI: Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, Hanuma Vihari, KL Rahul, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha, Kuldeep Yadav, Shahbaz Nadeem / Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav / T Natarajan.

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