India will announce their Test squad on Wednesday, for the Test series in England. Keeping in mind the rigorous schedule – five matches played across six weeks – India will most likely have an 18-man squad, as was the case during the 2014 tour which also had five Tests. It is not clear whether the selectors will pick the squad for the five Tests at one go, or just part of the series to begin with. Either way, these are the questions ESPNcricinfo predicts the selectors will ponder before finalising the list:
Is there space for Rohit Sharma in the middle order?
India will want a third middle-order batsman to support Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli. In South Africa, Rohit was given the opportunity to bolster the lower middle-order but he failed. The selectors felt Rohit was “less than satisfactory” in that series, in which he was played in the first two Tests ahead of Rahane. Rohit managed 78 runs in four innings and was dropped in the final Test in Johannesburg. He was also left out of the Afghanistan Test, with India A captain Karun Nair replacing him in the squad.
Rohit recently said that he was not going to lose sleep wondering if he would be picked or not in the longest format, given half his career was over. But he has been in top form in the limited-overs leg of the UK tour, with two centuries and a fifty. And, in the prevailing hot conditions in the UK, the selectors might be tempted to consider Rohit – once again – ahead of Karun Nair, who has got starts for India A but hasn’t scored big. However, the main question Kohli and India coach Shastri would like to figure out is whether Rohit remains a viable long-term option. India are playing four Tests in Australia later this year, and they ought to invest wisely.
Will Kuldeep Yadav be the X-factor in the Tests too?
England would have thought they had sorted Kuldeep out after the second T20I, but the left-arm wristspinner proved otherwise, taking nine wickets in the first two matches of the ODI series, including a six-for in his maiden ODI in England. Kohli revealed that he would be tempted to include Kuldeep in the Test squad based on his ODI form.
Kuldeep has already played two Tests and has shown the attitude and hunger to duel with the batsmen. If picked, he will ideally be part of a three-pronged spin attack alongside the senior pairing of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Who will be the reserve wicketkeeper?
Rishabh Pant the batsman has rattled many a bowler in domestic and List A cricket, making a strong and legitimate case for a place in the limited-overs squad. But it is his keeping skills that have remained unconvincing, with experts pointing out that his technique as a wicketkeeper needs work. He has not played a lot of first-class cricket either.
Pant is only 20 years old, so he has time to grow and should not be worried. And, despite all this, there are whispers that he could be one of the contenders for the reserve wicketkeeper’s post for the England Tests. With Wriddhiman Saha likely to miss at least part of the five-Test series, Dinesh Karthik is likely to be the first-choice wicketkeeper. If Saha’s thumb injury does not heal in time for him to even be named the reserve keeper, then India will need another back-up for Karthik.
In the past decade and a bit more the selectors have turned to Karthik and Parthiv Patel each time MS Dhoni and – later – Saha missed out in Tests. Parthiv did play the last two Tests of the South Africa series this year, but the team management was not happy with his glovework.
So will the selectors gamble with a left-field choice in Pant, an unfinished product as far his keeping goes? It is plausible. Pant is currently touring England as part of the India A series, and has 15 dismissals in eight matches including 14 catches and one stumping. India A arrived in England in the early part of June, which means Pant is well adapted to the conditions and the grounds.
If he is picked, it will not only be a bold move, but clearly a forward-thinking one too.
Should KL Rahul open or bat at No. 3?
India should retain the three openers that featured in the previous two Test series this year – South Africa in January and the one-off match in June against Afghanistan. Although M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul hit form against first-timers Afghanistan, neither of the three men lasted long in South Africa. Still they remain India’s best available options.
Rahul also offers the added advantage of coming in at No. 3 as he did in the Afghanistan Test, displacing the incumbent Cheteshwar Pujara to No. 4. With Kohli’s penchant for boldness and intent, Rahul is likely to be part of the first XI, which might add pressure on Pujara to produce his very best.