Every touring squad has its quota of surprise omissions and inclusions and the Indian team picked for the tour of England and the ICC World Test Championship final against New Zealand is no exception. On the face of it the glaring omissions are Hardik Pandya and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The latter is clearly unlucky to miss out given that his mode of bowling is perfect for English conditions. And he has proved it, for in 2014 he was the leading wicket taker for India in the five-match series with 19 wickets – the record for an Indian bowler in a Test series in England. Three years ago, on the last tour, he was inexplicably out of the Test team and was confined to the limited overs squad. Having recovered from his injuries he would have been an asset and clearly his effective swing bowling will be missed.
Pandya’s case is a bit different. On the 2018 tour he came good as an all-rounder scoring 164 runs at 23.42 and taking ten wickets at 24.70 for a side that lost the series 4-1. While his game is more suited to limited overs cricket, he has through hard work made himself invaluable in the Test squad too as career figures of 532 runs at 31.29 with one hundred and 17 wickets at 31 apiece from eleven matches will convey. The point to note however is that he has hardly been bowling of late and indeed during the home series against England in March Virat Kohli emphasized on the need to monitor Pandya’s bowling workload as the skipper was of the view that he could be crucial to the team’s chances in England. Pandya went through a surgery on his back and these days it is his shoulder that seems to be bothering him. Not willing to push himself he is now concentrating more on his batting. With the middle order already wearing a houseful look there is no way that Pandya can be accommodated as a batsman, pure and simple. Pandya incidentally last played a Test almost three years ago, against England at Southampton.
The rest of the squad really picked themselves with Shardul Thakur perhaps lucky to make it with Bhuvneshwar missing out. Still the pace bowling department is well served by the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Siraj. Adequate spin bowling with the presence of Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja makes it a balanced attack. The batting as only to be expected remains strong and indeed in all departments there appears to be an embarrassment of riches particularly with 20 players around with KL Rahul and Wriddhiman Saha awaiting fitness clearances.
But, is it a squad good enough to get the better of a confident and equally strong New Zealand in the WTC final and also defeat England in the five-match Test series? The WTC final has the looks of a scorcher with every little to choose between the contestants. Winning the series against England however will be tough especially given the fact that India has lost the three contests in that country in 2011, 2014 and 2018 with a most discouraging 2-11 win-loss record.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal)