Team India – Who Stays, Who Goes, Which New Faces Come In?

For India, another World Test Championship (WTC) cycle ended on a disappointing note with a 209-run defeat to Australia at The Oval. The crushing defeat has opened a box of questions pertaining to the squad composition, with pundits and fans calling for changes while asking the selection committee to bring new blood into the Test team for the next cycle, which begins with the tour to the West Indies in July.

With the selection committee set to meet to pick the squad for the two-match Test series, RevSportz looks at the players who should stay, be drafted in, or be left out for the next cycle.  Also, it is important to not only create a strong 15-member core, but to have another five or six players ready in case of injuries.

Shubman Gill – Stay

Gill is being tipped to be the face of Indian cricket for the next decade and more. Having already made a mark with two centuries and four half-centuries in 16 Tests, the upcoming WTC cycle should be the making of the next superstar. However, he will need to improve on his average of 32.89 and perform consistently in big games. Gill could also be utilised in the middle order, as was the plan of the Indian team management a few months back. Could he also be groomed as a future captain?

Cheteshwar Pujara – Go

With 7195 runs from 103 Tests at an average of 43.60, Pujara will go down as one of the legends of this era. However, his dipping returns have cost India more often than not. Moreover, his old-style ‘block, block and block some more’ and shaky running between the wickets look increasingly dated at a time when England are scoring at six an over in Tests. Since 2021, Pujara averages a mediocre 31.51 in 24 matches with just one century to his name – just not good enough. Thank you for all the memories, but it’s time to say goodbye.

Virat Kohli – Stay

Virat Kohli has already been phased out of the Indian T20I team, and that could prolong his career in Tests and ODIs. Arguably the fittest cricketer going around, all eyes will be on Kohli when India hit the field for the Test series against the Windies next month.

Ajinkya Rahane – Go

Ajinkya Rahane was arguably the best batter in the Indian team in the WTC 2023 Final with 89 and 46 runs to his name. However, Rahane, 35, would not have been in contention had either Shreyas Iyer or KL Rahul been fit for the summit clash. And that could be the case once again when the selection committee sits to pick the team for the Windies series. Time to look to the future.

KS Bharat – Go

Bharat’s batting technique was exposed during the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and the WTC final. He not only struggled against spin bowling, but was shaky against pace as well. If India wants a quality back-up wicket-keeper to Rishabh Pant in the longest format, then they will have to start to groom players now. Unfortunately, Bharat’s time with the Indian team should be up.

Ravindra Jadeja – Stay

No question of dropping one of the finest all-rounders in world cricket.

Shardul Thakur – Stay

Time and again, Shardul Thakur has proved his worth with the bat, while picking up crucial wickets with the ball in Test whites. Though he was erratic with his line and lengths in the first innings of the WTC Final, he is the only possibly finished product in the list of pace-bowling all-rounders for India. Has to stay fit and be more consistent with the ball.

Umesh Yadav – Go

There was a time when Umesh dominated the show with the ball in Indian conditions, which is not easy for any pacer. He had raw pace, lethal reverse-swing and the ability to move the new ball away. However, his pace has dipped with time and there’s not the same element of excitement around Umesh’s bowling in the longest format. He was struggling to clock 140km/h consistently in the WTC Final and only came good, in patches, in the second innings. With his fitness record also shaky, and his consistency questionable, it is perhaps the perfect time to blood the next line of pacers.

Mohammed Shami – Stay

Shami is one of the fittest bowlers going around, and can still bowl longer spells without breaking sweat. As skilful as any seamer, Shami could once again be a vital cog in the Indian pace attack come the next cycle.

Mohammed Siraj – Stay

Arguably India’s next leader in the pace department, Siraj’s stunning rise in red-ball cricket has been a treat to witness. A tenacious and skillful bowler with immense hunger to learn more, Siraj is not only going to be the most important pacer in the next cycle, but also beyond that.

Ravichandran Ashwin – Stay

Perhaps the greatest off-spinner India has ever produced, Ashwin was the highest-wicket taker for India in the WTC 2021-23 cycle, even though he missed out on the summit clash due to questionable team selection. Ashwin, 36, should continue for at least another cycle especially since he is expected to be a single-format player.

Jaydev Unadkat – Stay?

Unadkat’s returns in domestic circuit makes this an extremely tough call. Not only has he broken records for Saurashtra, he successfully made a comeback to the Indian Test set-up after a wait of 12 long years. He showcased his quality against Bangladesh in the Mirpur Test – the only match he played since his return – scalping three wickets in the few overs he bowled on the spin-friendly track. With a lack of accomplished left-arm pacers, especially workhorses, in red-ball cricket, Unadkat could continue for at least a few more series, and a call can be taken on the basis of those performances.

Ishan Kishan – Stay

If India wants a disruptive wicketkeeper-batter in the middle order as they eagerly await the return of Rishabh Pant, then Ishan Kishan should be trusted to do the job. Though he hasn’t played a lot of Ranji Trophy matches for Jharkhand in the recent past, Kishan could get a longer rope considering Pant is going to be out for a few more months. Bonus, he is a left-hand batter. 

Axar Patel – Stay

Has done nothing wrong. Should stay and continue to play home Test matches.

Next Generation

Yashasvi Jaiswal

Jaiswal is going to be a regular name in the Indian Test squad in next cycle. He has already made a strong mark in first-class cricket, having scored double-centuries in Ranji, Irani and Duleep Trophy, while also being among the runs for India A. Jaiswal gives India a left-hand option at the top of the order, or could even bat at No.3. His leg-spin could also have nuisance value in the longer format.

Courtesy: BCCI/IPL

Kuldeep Yadav

Kuldeep has reediscovered his mojo in white-ball cricket for India. The left-arm, wrist-spin bowler should once again be drafted into the Test squad, even if he is not starting regularly, just to have that additional skillset in the team.

Tilak Varma

Already the backbone of Hyderabad’s batting in the Ranji Trophy, Tilak should definitely be in the reckoning for the longest format. Even if not an immediate starter with the likes of Shreyas around, he can be groomed for a greater role in the coming years.

Mukesh Kumar

Mukesh Kumar is likely to get his Test call-up for the West Indies series. The leader of the Bengal bowling attack in domestic cricket, Mukesh is as close as anyone can get to Shami. With Umesh set to be phased out, Mukesh could be the next third seamer for India in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah.

To return later in the cycle

Rishabh Pant

Pant, who is still recovering from his horrific car accident, is likely to be back in action in 2024. Once he is, he is expected to start in the Test XI. However, it remains to be seen how his body copes with the rigours of Test cricket after suffering many severe injuries in the unfortunate accident.

Shreyas Iyer                                                                                                                                                     

Shreyas had a back injury which ruled him out of the WTC Final. But he is expected to slot in right away, given his fantastic returns in Test cricket, once he returns to full fitness.

KL Rahul

With India set to phase out two of their most experienced batters in Pujara and Rahane, one wonders whether there will be a place for Rahul in that middle order. When in form and high on confidence, Rahul can be one of the best batters in the world, and it remains to be seen what the selectors and team management think once he recovers from his lower-back injury.

Fitness Cloud

Jasprit Bumrah

Right now, the million-dollar question is: when will Bumrah return? Given that many pacers have struggled to get back to their best following serious lower-back injuries, it remains to be seen whether Bumrah can regain fitness enough to replicate his past performances. Will he have to drop a format or two to prolong his career? More questions at the moment than answers. But if he is fit, then playing him is a no-brainer.

Rohit Sharma

Since starting as opener against South Africa in 2019, Rohit has been a consistent run-scorer in whites. Averaging 51.44 with 1852 runs to his name in 23 Tests since then, Rohit should ideally continue in the Indian Test set-up. However, with age catching up (36) and an average fitness record, it remains to be seen how the ‘Hitman’ pulls up in the next Test cycle. Rohit continuing as the captain would allow the team management to groom the next leader under him. 

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