As timely as the decision to rest Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya was—given their heavy work load in South Africa across formats—India will land in Sri Lanka for the tri-series with their thinnest fast-bowling stock in a while. Between Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Jaydev Unadkat and Vijay Shankar, there’s a collective experience of only 11 matches.
Alright, this tournament presents an ideal audition for the quartet, who have been consistent in the shorter forms, but there’s no arguing the fact that their guile and experience will be sorely missed. For instance, who will Rohit Sharma, the skipper as Virat Kohli is rested, summon at the death in a crunch situation, as was the case in Cape Town on Saturday.
Left-armer Unadkat has developed a decent yorker, but can he unfurl it at will like Bumrah?
Thakur has developed a knuckle ball, but can he make a Bhuvneshwar-like impact?
Siraj has been quite prolific in Vijay Hazare, where he pinncales the bowling chart, but can he replicate the same into an international match?
Vijay’s batting is a notch above Pandya’s, but can he bowl half as penetratingly as Pandya?
They could well justify the selectors’ trust and pass the test with flying colours, but it doesn’t take away the fact that they’re still uncut and have lots to prove at this level.
Vijay’s was perhaps a surprise inclusion, but not a curious one. If the selectors were to give Pandya a breather, he was the most obvious choice. Though he’s not Pandya’s like-for-like replacement, that they consider Vijay as his back-up was established during the Test series against Sri Lanka.
To his defence, he has been in fine form, especially with the bat, blasting a 102-ball 100 against Gujarat and a 62-ball 84 against Madhya Pradesh in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, after being deputed as Tamil Nadu skipper in the over-specific versions. However, he has been reluctant to bring himself on with the ball, thus bowling just 13 overs in four games, often coming in as the fourth-fifth bowler.
In Syed Mushtaq, too, he bowled only 11 overs in seven games. Then unlike Pandya, he’s more of a middle-order batsman who bowls a few overs than a genuine all-rounder. Less surprising was the addition of Washington Sundar, Vijay’s Tamil Nadu colleague.
But unlike him, Sundar has been bowling a lot—in Vijay Hazare, he bowled 41.2 overs in five games, though he managed to whittle out only three wickets, but kept most batsmen on leash, leaking less than four runs an over. In Syed Mushtaq, however, he was more penetrative, nabbing 12 wickets and leaking fewer than seven an over in nine games.
His batting, though, dipped last year—the 50-overs tournament yielding him only 23 runs in five outings, while the T20 numbers were slightly more encouraging (190 in 9). But in a top-heavy batting line-up, his bowling utility will be scrutinised more than his willow-wielding ability.
Squad: Rohit Sharma (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Suresh Raina, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Deepak Hooda, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Vijay Shankar, Shardul Thakur, Jaydev Unadkat, Mohammad Siraj, Rishabh Pant.