(Express photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)Shreyas Iyer and Manish Pandey could well be considered the lost boys of Indian cricket, as they repeatedly suffered selectorial snubs despite scoring runs across conditions, formats and oppositions. It has prompted both to develop a thick skin and become almost impervious to disappointment.
Now they are back again, for the white-ball leg of the West Indies tour, and will look to revive their stop-start international careers once again. The call-ups were expected as the selectors need to find solutions for the middle-order malaise that put paid to the World Cup dream.
But will their inclusion translate into game time? And aren’t the selectors repeating the same mistakes that they committed before the World Cup as they prepare for next year’s ICC World T20 in Australia? They have promised— though not guaranteed — the fringe players a sustained run in the forthcoming season, stacked as India is with limited-over fixtures in the lead-up to the 20-over world championship.
Though one of the selectors said after the meeting that “they will be given proper opportunities to stake their claims,” how that pans out, at least in the West Indies series, is not quite straightforward , with KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant and Kedar Jadhav around.
Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer have been picked for the limited-overs leg.Though Rahul has been included as the third opener, with the return of Shikhar Dhawan, it would be difficult (and harsh) to dislodge him after his profitable World Cup, where he was India’s third-highest run-getter (361 runs at 45). Hence, the team management would be left with no other alternative but to accommodate him in the middle order. In fact, he looked more comfortable batting at No. 4 than opening the innings, where the moving-ball torment has made him a lesser force.
Rahul’s free-flowing style, thus, could be better utilised at No. 4. So remarked Virat Kohli after the World Cup warm-up game against Bangladesh, in which he had scored a hundred at No. 4. “I think the biggest positive to come out was the way Rahul batted at four. He has the game, shots and temperament to be a good No. 4. It is important that he gets runs and he is a sound player to get the scoreboard ticking,” the skipper had said. Rahul could, like the best number fours in history, stamp a game, unlike some of the options India were left with after his forced promotion following Dhawan’s injury.
Pant couldn’t be dispensed with either. After taking over from Rahul, he had looked adequate at No 4, if only fleetingly. He seemed assured against the moving ball, but the tendency to throw his wicket away had experts wondering whether he was batting a spot higher than he should.
But grooming is primary in the selectors’ scheme, what with MS Dhoni ploughing through his last days. Chief selector MSK Prasad implied as much, when he said: “We had a certain roadmap and plans till the World Cup. Subsequently, we’ve laid down few more plans and we thought of giving as many opportunities as possible to Pant and to see he is groomed.”
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That leaves the team management with just the number six spot to fret over. While both Iyer and Pandey would gleefully latch onto any spot, so long as they get an opportunity, they are ideally cast in the middle-order mould. Number six or beneath would be under-selling them, as they could languish and get disillusioned.
Pandey would know it better. He was pushed down the order, often coming at No. 6 and blasting quickfire 30s, before he was jettisoned. The selectors tried to remould a middle-order enforcer into a finisher. Their misdiagnosiswas brutally exposed in the World Cup, despite a precursor in the 2017 Champions Trophy. Should it go unattended again, it could eat into India’s World T20 prospects next year as well.
Then lingers Kedar Jadhav, and the team management could be tempted to afford him one last shot at redemption before discarding him altogether.
All of this would mean that both Iyer and Pandey could end up biding their time again, ferrying drinks or filling in as a substitutes than rebuilding their international careers.
A possible way out could have been resting a few mainstays so that the fringe players get adequate chances to buttress their case. But the selectors included the likes of Kohli and Sharma once they communicated their availability for the series.
Jadhav’s inclusion perfectly summed up the pervading theme of the Sunday meeting — the selectors are keen to move forward, start afresh, but still can’t shake off the past. A series against as lightweight an opposition as the West Indies would have been ideal to blood in not just Pandey or Iyer, but even someone as promising as Shubman Gill. But their vision, if any, hasn’t matched their ambition. The tour would have been a perfect platform to reintegrate Pandey and Iyer and strengthen the middle-order core. Instead, it seems an opportunity lost.
Like Pandey and Iyer, some of the bowlers picked for the T20s could also end up as passengers. Now that Ravindra Jadeja has re-emerged as India’s favoured spin-bowling option in limited-over games, it’s hard to foresee someone like Rahul Chahar, the promising leggie who rose to fame in the IPL, getting a game. Even more unlikely as he would have to bypass Krunal Pandya, who had a terrific A series in the Caribbean, and Washington Sundar, who provides runs as well.
So effectively, for all these cosmetic changes, the body could remain much the same as one saw in the World Cup. That thick skin developed by Iyer and Pandey could come handy once again.
Squads for the WI tour
T20Is (Aug 3, 4, 6) : Virat Kohli (C), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (WK), Krunal Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Washington Sundar, Rahul Chahar, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed, Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini
ODIs (Aug 8, 11, 14): Virat Kohli (C), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (WK), Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kedar Jadhav, Mohd Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed, Navdeep Saini
Tests (Aug 22 – 26, Aug 30 – Sept 3): Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane, Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, C Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (WK) Wriddhiman Saha (WK), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Mohd Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav.
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