Squad sizes have increased considerably in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Indian cricket team reaped the benefits in the series against Australia.
A multitude of players suffered injuries, and the team had to dig as deep as their net bowlers to put out a playing XI for the 4th and final Test. Although almost all players in the squad featured at some point in the series, we might not see the same happen in the upcoming England clash.
Short balls are unlikely to be as frequent or dangerous, while fast bowlers can afford to take breathers as the spinners operate. Batsmen will find run-scoring easier, and hard ones and twos won’t need to be taken.
If the Indian team’s first-choice stars stay fit, these 3 players might not get a taste of the action in the upcoming series against England.
Honorable Mention: Hardik Pandya – The all-rounder is returning from injury, and hasn’t bowled at a competitive level for a long time. India captain Virat Kohli has clearly mentioned that Pandya won’t be considered for selection in Test cricket unless he bowls, so we might see him sit this series out as he attempts to return to full fitness.
Mayank Agarwal has played 5 Tests at home for India, and has scored 597 runs at an average of 99.5. However, poor performances away at New Zealand and Australia have seen him fall behind Shubman Gill in the pecking order.
If Rohit and Gill stay fit, Agarwal won’t get a chance to open. He was used in the middle order in the 4th Test against Australia, but that was due to India’s short-handedness and not a tactical move. Moreover, he got out in disappointing fashion, spooning a catch to cover at a crucial juncture of the run-chase.
Agarwal can’t have any complaints if he doesn’t get a game in this series, and he’ll be keen on making the necessary technical adjustments and coming back stronger when he does get an opportunity for India.
Axar Patel has been named as an injury replacement in India’s Test squad before, but he got his first official call-up for this series against England. He is a like-for-like replacement for Ravindra Jadeja, and it is unlikely that he will play in the presence of other options like Ravichandran Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav and debut hero Washington Sundar.
Even if he plays, Axar might not make an impact similar to Jadeja in either department. If the aforementioned trio steer clear of injuries (a task that is easier said than done), the all-rounder will have to be content with carrying the drinks throughout the series.
There has been speculation that Axar could be used to counter the England batsmen’s weaknesses against left-arm spin, but it would be very difficult to drop Sundar. Moreover, the visitors have multiple left-handers in Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Rory Burns, and an extra off-spinning weapon might prove to be invaluable.
Bafflingly, KL Rahul doesn’t seem to be part of India’s red-ball plans at the moment. The Karnataka-based batsman didn’t play either warm-up game ahead of the 4-Test series against Australia, and was left out of the XI even though Rohit Sharma was injured and Virat Kohli flew back home after the 1st Test.
Rahul was still in with a shot to feature in a Test, but a wrist injury ruled him out of the tour. He has been named in the Indian squad for the first two Tests, but it’s difficult to envision him playing either as an opener or in the middle order.
Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill are undoubtedly the first-choice openers, while Mayank Agarwal, who has a splendid record at home, is next in line. The middle order – Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant – is as strong as any in the world. Hardik Pandya, who offers some overs with the ball if he is completely fit, is also making a return to the Indian squad.
So Rahul might find himself on the Indian bench throughout the series, or at least for the first two Tests.