All-rounder Hardik Pandya earned his maiden Test call-up even as senior speedster Ishant Sharma made a comeback after recovering from Chikungunya in the 15-member Indian squad announced on Wednesday for the first two matches against England starting November 9 in Rajkot.
While KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were left out due to fitness issues, batsman Rohit Sharma was also out forced out by a thigh injury which might require surgery. Veteran opener Gautam Gambhir was retained in the squad after scoring a half century in the Indore Test against New Zealand.
Karun Nair is the reserve batsman and Jayant Yadav is the fourth spinner in the squad after Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra.
The pace duo of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav retained their places in the side. Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay, on the other hand, were automatic inclusions.
The selection committee chaired by MSK Prasad fielded maximum queries regarding Pandya’s inclusion and he stated that his “all-round abilities” with a sea change in attitude after working under India A coach Rahul Dravid went in his favour.
Prasad admitted that Pandya was one of the few seamer all-rounders that India has at the moment.
“Yes, I do agree he (Hardik) has not played much of first-class cricket. But going by his form, at some point of time all of us have to agree to this point that we need to identify the right all-rounders. He is one among the top all-rounders we have,” he said.
“After the Australia A tour, if you look, his pace has increased, he is able to move the ball much better, his batsmanship has increased and overall his personality has just mellowed down. He did really well (in the A series) and in this ODI series (against New Zealand). He is one all-rounder who is an equally competent bowler, batsman and fielder,” Prasad explained.
About Karun, who was included as a standby in the final Test at Indore, Prasad said, “We have been grooming him (Karun Nair) for the last one or two years.”
The chairman said Bhuvneshwar Kumar has recovered from his back injury but the selection committee wants the UP seamer to at least play a Ranji game and prove his match fitness. Similar was the case of KL Rahul (hamstring) and Shikhar Dhawan (finger fracture).
Moving away from convention for a home series, the selectors also named Ajinkya Rahane as the vice-captain to take charge of the team if and when captain Kohli leaves the field, Prasad said.
About retaining Gambhir, who was recalled to the Test squad in the series against New Zealand after a two-year absence, Prasad said the selectors thought very hard before including any player but once selected they want to give him “a fair chance”.
Virat Kohli (C), Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Karun Nair, Hardik Pandya, Wriddhiman Saha (wicketkeeper), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jayant Yadav.