Selectors under scanner for ‘bold’ calls on Test team vs NZ

NEW DELHI: The Chetan Sharma-led national selection committee has sprung another surprise by demoting Hanuma Vihari to India ‘A’ for the South Africa tour while bringing in Shreyas Iyer for the two-Test home series against New Zealand which starts in Kanpur on November 25. Vihari was added to the ‘A’ team on Friday three days after it was announced.
As TOI had reported on Thursday, Ajinkya Rahane will be leading the team in the first Test in Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma’s absence before Kohli joins the team in Mumbai for the second Test which starts on December 3. Rohit will skip the entire series while Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Rishabh Pant and Shardul Thakur have been rested which was also reported by TOI.
However, the selection committee, which is already under pressure after making some debatable selections for the T20 World Cup, will have to do some answering after they named the Test and India ‘A’ teams. Vihari, whose last Test innings helped India stave off a historic draw in Sydney earlier in the year, will feel unlucky to miss out on the prospect of getting some runs under his belt in Test matches at home.
Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara—who have been searching for some run of form for a while now — have been appointed the captain and vice-captain to start the series.
Vision to groom middle-order backup
TOI understands that the move to send Vihari with India ‘A’ team was taken keeping in mind the need to get him acclimatized to the South African conditions before the Test team reaches for three-Test series in December. Prithvi Shaw too is part of the ‘A’ team.
Shreyas Iyer has not played any red-ball cricket for two and a half years. However, TOI has learnt that the selectors and team management is keen to prepare a backup for Pujara and Rahane in the middle-order. Iyer is seen as a potential candidate and this series will give new head coach Rahul Dravid an idea about where Iyer stands in red-ball cricket. There is also a theory that Shubman Gill could also bat in the middle-order in the longest format if the need arises. Gill has had some dominating performances in the middle-order while batting in the middle-order.
“One must remember Dravid had advocated for shadow ‘A’ tours before every big away tour. Anyway, a larger squad will be there in South Africa. This allows Vihari and Prithvi to get used to the conditions and if they do well, they will be inducted into the Test team in South Africa. Anyway, India never needed specialist batters till No. 7 in India. Ravindra Jadeja can bat up the order and R Ashwin too has been good on Indian pitches,” a source close to the selectors told TOI.
Interestingly, Haryana off-spinner Jayant Yadav has also been brought back into the squad. Yadav too hasn’t set the domestic scene on fire while Karnataka’s off-spinner Krishnappa Gowtham, who has been a prolific wicket-taker over the last few years, has been picked for India ‘A’ team. However, Yadav had picked 7/58 in his last Ranji Trophy match in Feb 2020. He had played just two matches that season.
Bold India ‘A’ selections
Besides the glaring omission of Vihari, the selectors also decided to bring back his U-19 World Cup-winning teammate Baba Aparajith in the India ‘A’ scheme of things. Aparajith has had very modest domestic seasons in the past few years. In his last Ranji Trophy season, he had scored 292 runs in eight games. He had a decent Vijay Hazare Trophy last year where he scored 217 runs at 43.40 average and a strike rate of 69.10. It is believed the dearth of batters who can bowl may have helped his cause.
Interestingly, the selectors went with just one wicketkeeper in Upendra Yadav for the three first-class games for ‘A’ series in South Africa. There has been no communication about who will fill in for him if he gets injured in the middle of the tour.
Test squad: Ajinkya Rahane (Captain), KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara (vice-captain), Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, Wriddhiman Saha (wicket-keeper), KS Bharat (wicket-keeper), Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Axar Patel, Jayant Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Md. Siraj, Prasidh Krishna

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