An early birthday present for Bumrah as tough "Tests" await India in South Africa
Going by 32-year-old Parthiv Patel's recall to India's Test squad for their tour of South Africa starting next month, it's evident the current team management swears by the phrase "age is no bar". This appears to be the extension of their decision of staying with Dinesh Karthik and Kedar Jadhav in limited-overs cricket.
Also by the author: Are Jadhav and Karthik doing enough to stay in the Indian team?
To be fair to Patel, the decision shouldn't come as a big surprise. Last year he returned to India's Test team against England after regular wicket-keeper batsman Wriddhiman Saha picked up an injury during a five-game rubber, and grabbing the opportunity with both hands Patel gave a good account of himself with scores of 42,67, 15 and 71 in the three games he played as India won 4-0.
In the ongoing Ranji Trophy too, he has displayed good form as he has scored over 300 runs in six matches so far with 173 being his highest. Now, that may not seem much but when one takes into consideration that he is also keeping wickets and leading the team – and what a good job he has done for Group B toppers Gujarat who have won five of their six games – his selection in the national team can be easily explained away. Also, not to forget he is only a back-up option to Saha.
The MSK Prasad-led selection panel also decided to give a maiden Test call-up to 23-year-old fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah but there is no element of surprise there. Since the pitches in South Africa are going to bounce, there aren't many better options than Bumrah, who bends his back and extracts a lot of bounce. Bumrah, who also hails from Gujarat, has done very well in limited-overs cricket since his debut for the national team almost two years ago, and this call-up is recognition of his efforts in both ODIs and T20Is.
Other than these two decisions, the rest of the 17-member squad is comprised of the usual suspects. In the batting department, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, captain Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Saha and Rohit Sharma will take the responsibility of scoring runs in what is expected to be a tough tour owing to very difficult batting conditions in South Africa.
In the fast bowling department, besides Bumrah, credible names like Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar adorn the squad. All-rounder Hardik Pandya, who had been rested from the Test series against Sri Lanka, makes a return and provides a good option in both batting and fast bowling. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, meanwhile, make up the spin department but considering the friendly fast-bowling conditions in South Africa it’s highly unlikely they will both feature together in the playing XI as has often been seen when India play at home.
The omission of up-and-coming spinner Kuldeep Yadav comes as a surprise but having in mind the conditions in South Africa the selectors could be forgiven for not considering him. Yadav's exclusion heavily suggests that the team management and selectors are mainly pinning their hopes on fast bowlers.
India have never won a Test series in South Africa and despite their dominance in the five-day format in the last one and a half years, they will go into the three-game series as underdogs. All Indian batsmen have shown incredible form at home in recent months but now awaits them one of the biggest tests in world cricket. It will be interesting to see how they will fare having played so much on flat, innocuous pitches in recent times. The first Test starts in Cape Town on January 5 and clearly they don’t have much time as far as the adaptation aspect is concerned.
India have always been poor travellers largely because of their batting woes abroad, especially in England, Australia and South Africa, and if Kohli wants to stake a real claim for being the best Test team in the world – as champion teams win everywhere, not just at home or in friendly conditions, besides being the top team on the ICC rankings – this is the golden opportunity for them to take that first, big step towards invincibility.
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