India selection preview – Virat Kohli, Ishant Sharma set to return for England series
New panel will meet on Tuesday to pick a squad for the first two Tests of the home series
Even before the ink on India’s glorious and eventful tour of Australia dries, the selection committee is set to pick a squad for the first two Tests of the home series against England. Comprising four matches, this series will be played in February, in a bio-secure environment, without spectators, with back-to-back Tests scheduled in both Chennai and Ahmedabad.
This selection meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, will be the first of a brand new panel led by Chetan Sharma (chairman) and made up of Sunil Joshi, Abey Kuruvilla, Debashish Mohanty and Harvinder Singh.
The England series will mark the return of Virat Kohli to the fold after he left the Australia tour to attend the birth of his first child. With all the games being played in a bubble it is likely that an enlarged squad will be picked – at least 25 players, including net bowlers. The success of several young players over the past several weeks will embolden Kohli and the selectors, but they will will need to figure some key questions.
Will it be a five-pronged fast bowling attack?
A strong series result for India is a must for them to keep their chances of making the World Test Championship final alive. Consequently, India are likely to favour spin-friendly pitches to assist R Ashwin and co. Still the selectors are likely to pick five frontline fast bowlers in the primary squad. It is understood that Jasprit Bumrah, who was forced to sit out of the Gabba Test, will be fit to play his first home Test series.
It is understood Ishant Sharma, who missed out on travelling to Australia since he was completing his rehab from an injury picked during the IPL, will bolster the pace attack. Ishant is currently three matches short of becoming only the second Indian fast bowler to play 100 Test matches after Kapil Dev. As on Monday, he had featured in four T20s for Delhi in which he picked up five wickets at an economy of 7.76.
Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur and T Natarajan are likely to be the remaining three fast bowlers.
As for Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who is also playing in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s for Uttar Pradesh, it is learned that the selectors want him to get used to bowling a lot of overs before opening him up to the rigours of Test cricket. Kumar was injured during the early part of the IPL and has not played any fist-class cricket for a while. The pair of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav are likely to be considered for the final two Tests, provided they recover completely from the injuries picked during the Australia tour.
Three spinners or more?
It is likely to be three spinners in the first squad with Ashwin leading the spin attack. In the absence of Ravindra Jadeja, who could return for the final two Tests, the selectors are likely to pick the left-arm pair of Kuldeep Yadav and Shahbaz Nadeem. Yadav last played for India in January 2019, in the final Test of the last Australian tour, taking a five-for.
Despite Ashwin being unavailable for the Brisbane Test, the Indian team management picked a rookie in Washington Sundar over Yadav, who missed out on playing in any of the four Tests on this Australian tour. Sundar, who travelled to Australia originally as part of the white-ball squads, went on to make a fine Test debut but is only likely to be part of the net bowlers for the England series.
Three openers or four?
It is understood that the selectors are likely to include at least three openers, while also looking at options who can double up as a middle-order batsman. Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill will be persisted as the opening pair along with Mayank Agarwal as the back-up. The selectors could also include one of the uncapped Priyank Panchal or Abhimanyu Easwaran as fourth opener with the aim of getting them to spend time with the first team. Both Panchal and Easwaran have been leading run-makers in first-class cricket as well as for India A and the selectors want them to get a higher level of exposure.
Prithvi Shaw, who made a century on Test debut in 2018, is is likely to dropped from the squad to allow him the time to strengthen his technique. Shaw was dropped after an uneventful outing in the day-night Test in Adelaide where his technical frailties were highlighted by experts including Sunil Gavaskar and Ricky Ponting. KL Rahul, who sprained his wrist in Melbourne, will be assessed in February before the selectors consider whether to include him for the final two Tests against England.
Additional reporting by Shashank Kishore
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo