Team India set up an ICC World Test Championship final clash with New Zealand after trouncing England 3-1 in the recently-concluded Test series. India were the dominant side throughout the league cycle, winning five out of the six series they played. Their only series loss came against New Zealand in 2020.
The World Test Championship final is scheduled to start on 18 June 2021 at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. The Asia Cup - which will be held in the T20 format this year - is also scheduled for June in Sri Lanka. Even if the Asia Cup is pushed back by a few days to avert the clash with the WTC final, it would be practically impossible for the multiformat players to be available for both the events, considering the strict quarantine rules, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As such, several reports have emerged that India might send a second-string squad to the Asia Cup. The Test squad members will continue to stay in England as they prepare for the Test series starting in August.
In this article, let us have a look at possible Indian squads for both the events with the World Test Championship final prioritized. It is also a great opportunity to test India's bench strength in the T20I format ahead of the ICC T20 World Cup later this year.
World Test Championship final squad:
Probable Playing XI:
India persisted with the same batting line-up consisting of Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, and Rishabh Pant in all four Tests against England. Despite some below par performances, Gill may still be the preferred choice over Mayank Agarwal, owing to the former's stellar showing against Australia.
Senior Test specialists Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane were also mediocre against England, but both are seasoned campaigners and have delivered in crunch situations on numerous occasions. So, barring an injury or a need for an extra batting cushion, there seems to be no scope for a change in the top six of India's batting line-up.
Considering the Southampton pitch, which has a history of offering help to the spinners (Moeen Ali scalped eight and nine wickets against India in 2014 and 2018 respectively), India may opt for two spin-bowling all-rounders in the form of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin. Hardik Pandya may also be in contention if there is enough grass covering the wicket. On the pace bowling front, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, and Jasprit Bumrah have established themselves as the first-choice trio to take the field at the Ageas Bowl if fully fit.
With the current trend of having bigger squads due to quarantine restrictions, India would need to have backups for every department. Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj, Kuldeep Yadav, Wriddhiman Saha, Mayank Agarwal, and Hanuma Vihari are straightforward picks as the reserves. While selecting the remaining players, their chances of featuring in the World Test Championship final against their utility in the Asia Cup squad need to be taken into consideration.
Hardik Pandya could be a lynchpin of the T20I team, but the value he adds to the Test side in the seaming conditions makes him a good option to have, albeit in the reserves. Similarly, Washington Sundar could walk into the T20I team, but the variety of roles he could play in the Test side (backup spin all-rounder, a backup middle-order batsman, or even back-up opener) makes him a must-have in the longest format.
Both Shardul Thakur and Axar Patel have performed splendidly in their short Test careers. But in all probability, they would have to warm the bench in England and would be better off being in the Asia Cup contingent, forming a vital part of the playing XI.
Asia Cup Squad:
Probable Playing XI:
In the absence of Rohit Sharma, it is expected that KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan will be the openers for Team India. Although Ishan Kishan impressed as an opener in the second T20I against England, he is flexible enough to bat in the middle-order too. Dhawan has always been an opener and would play at the top.
Rahul, who led India in a T20I during the New Zealand tour, was also appointed vice-captain of the limited-overs formats in Rohit’s absence Down Under. Despite his poor returns in the recent T20I series against England, it would be a good opportunity to appoint the Punjab Kings skipper as Team India captain and test his leadership skills at international level.
The middle-order will consist of Suryakumar Yadav, Shreyas Iyer, and Ishan Kishan, all of whom featured in the T20I series against England.
For the No.6 spot, there would be a tussle between a specialist batsman and an all-rounder. Sanju Samson may just get the nod, having been given a long rope in 2020.
Axar Patel and Shardul Thakur are almost certain to play as all-rounders, owing to their recent exploits. The bowling line-up will be completed by consistent T20 performers Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, and T. Natarajan, barring any injuries or drastic loss of form.
Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini, Rahul Tewatia, and Varun Chakravarthy featured in the Indian squad against England and are expected to be named in the Asia Cup team as well. Chahar has recently fallen off the radar but could push for a place in playing XI if he has a good IPL season. Tewatia and Chakravarthy too would be keen to make their mark, having failed mandatory fitness tests recently.
As a spin-bowling all-rounder, Krunal Pandya has made a strong case for inclusion, amassing 388 runs in just five matches in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. He also picked up five wickets during the tournament. As a seaming all-rounder, Shivam Dube would be the preferred choice, given the dearth of quality options.
Manish Pandey, who has been a part of India’s limited-overs setup for a while, may keep his place in the squad as a backup option. The fight for the backup opener’s slot would be intense as Prithvi Shaw and Devdutt Padikkal have both shattered records, scoring 827 and 737 runs respectively in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. But Shaw’s international experience may tilt the scales in his favor.
A few other contenders who could make it to the Asia Cup team if they have a stellar IPL season are as follows:
Devdutt Padikkal, Dinesh Karthik, Khaleel Ahmed, Rahul Chahar, Sandeep Sharma, Nitish Rana, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ravi Bishnoi, Vijay Shankar, Kartik Tyagi