Teenage batting prospect Prithvi Shaw will make his debut for India in the opening Test of the two-match series against West Indies starting in Rajkot on Thursday.
In a departure from previous team announcements, India named a 12-man squad one day ahead of the match and while 18-year-old right-hander Shaw made the cut, fellow rookie opener Mayank Agarwal, 27, missed out.
Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan opened for India at the start of the recent five-test series in England but both players have been overlooked following modest performances during the 4-1 defeat.
Shaw has played only 14 first-class games, scoring 1,418 runs at an average of 56.71, and will open alongside Lokesh Rahul, who was the third opener in England and survived the axe after posting a breezy 149 in the final test at the Oval.
“We have a change at the top of the order and we will give these guys enough space and enough chances to feel comfortable at that position,” India captain Virat Kohli told reporters.
“We want them to be confident about what they are doing.
“Apart from the top of the order getting cemented, I don’t think that with these two test matches there’s a lot that we are looking at. The rest of the things feel quite settled.
“At the top of the order these guys are new, so they will take a bit of time to get into it. They definitely have the skill-set, they are supremely talented and what we have seen of them is very, very exciting.”
India, who last lost a home test series against England in 2012, started the year with a 2-1 loss in South Africa but then thrashed debutants Afghanistan in a one-off test at home before flying to England.
Shaw, who was a non-playing squad member for the final two tests in England, has already been tipped for a bright future in national colours, while Agarwal came into the reckoning for a 2017-18 season in which he scored heavily across all formats.
Shaw, and Agarwal if he makes the side for the second test, will be keen to book their places on India’s four-test series in Australia, which represents a last chance in 2018 for Kohli’s team to take their formidable home form overseas.
“We will like to take this series as a benchmark we want to set and keep repeating those things,” Kohli said.
“As a side, you want to see three or four tests so that you have ample time to test your skills and test out the areas that you need to improve on.
“But having said that, we have to utilise the time that we have and make the most of these two test matches that we have in front of us... try and solidify the areas we need to going ahead as a test side.”
All-rounder Hanuma Vihari and fast bowler Mohammed Siraj were the other two players to miss out from the original 15-man squad.
Should India opt for a third spinner then Kuldeep Yadav will play alongside Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, while Shardul Thakur will make his test debut if a third fast bowler is called upon.
Kohli, meanwhile, is returning to the international arena after skipping India’s recent 50-over Asia Cup triumph in the United Arab Emirates.
“I feel rejuvenated. It was both mental and physical because of the intensity at which the two tours in South Africa and England went,” the world’s top-ranked test batsman said.
“I definitely needed the break as my back went once in South Africa and again in England.
“These things are very important to consider... to give players ample rest and opportunity to train well and come back stronger. You don’t want guys breaking down in very important series.”
The second Test is in Hyderabad from Oct. 12-16
India squad: Virat Kohli (captain), Lokesh Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wicketkeeper), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Shardul Thakur.