India vs New Zealand 2016: Five talking points from Sandip Patil's last squad
The Indian selectors on Monday announced a largely unchanged 15-member Indian Test squad for the three-match home series against New Zealand.
"We have stuck to the combination which has done very well. We were of the opinion that this was the best possible combination for New Zealand," said chief selector Sandeep Patil after he chaired the final meeting of his tenure.
Like every past Team India squad, this too was discussed and dissected at length by fans and opinion makers. With a big home season in the offing, the team management was willing to take no risks in order to launch India's bid to reclaim the No.1 Test ranking on solid footing.
As Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli brace for their second challenge, here are five major talking points from Patil and co's last squad.
Long rope to Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma is surely one of the first names on India's team sheet when it comes to limited overs cricket. It is in the Test format that Hitman has disappointed not just his fans but also his backers in the Indian board. Why he hasn't converted his immense potential into performance in whites is a question experts have no answers to. Despite the right-hander's repeated failures, skippers MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli have time and again stood firmly behind Sharma. The Mumbai batsman launched his Test career in style but hasn't been able to deliver on a consistent basis. Hence his inclusion in the team yet again sparked off a huge debate. With a packed home schedule, Kohli needs Sharma to fire against the Kiwis in order to justify his repeated selection.
In-form Gautam Gambhir ignored again
Indian team is spoilt for choices when it comes to quality openers. KL Rahul's rise has meant the competition for places is really intense at the top. As of now, it is not quite clear as to which opening combination the team will opt for against Kane Williamson and co. Despite the dip in form, Shikhar Dhawan was retained in the squad by the selectors. Several fans questioned this decision of the BCCI, asking why another left-hander - Gautam Gambhir - wasn't picked instead. The Delhi batsman has been in supreme form in the ongoing Duleep Trophy, posting scores of 77, 59, 90 and 94. Fellow Delhi man Dhawan has hit just one fifty in his last four outings. Gambhir has every right to be disappointed but with the England series in the near future, he needs to keep banging on the door.
Where will Virat Kohli bat?
Against the Windies, Virat's captaincy was under more focus than his batting. The 27-year-old handled key situations in the match with great maturity and quelled several doubts about his temperament. However, his decision to promote himself to number three in the absence of Cheteshwar Pujara surprised many. Kohli told reporters that he had no qualms about batting at any position. Kohli, as number three batsman, is averaging 23.25, - his tally being 93 in five innings with a highest of 41 vs Australia at Feroz Shah Kotla in 2012-13. Pujara, India's regular number three, has often been criticized for his poor strike rate. Kohli's willingness to bat at three will come in handy for the team in case there is a requirement to gather quick runs. But will he do so considering his poor record in that position?
Competition for opening slots
The competition for the opening batting positions is definitely heating up. It will be extremely interesting to see what opening combination is preferred by Anil Kumble and Kohli. In the first Test against West Indies, India opened with Vijay and Dhawan. After the Tamil Nadu batsman's injury, Rahul opened with Dhawan for the second and third Tests. After Vijay was declared fit for the final Test, the team management opted to drop Dhawan. Vijay has been one of the most consistent Test performers for India in the last couple of years. With Rahul in red-hot form, Dhawan's chances of playing in the first eleven look unlikely. Irrespective of the the captain's choice, this race for batting positions will keep the players on their toes and benefit Indian cricket.
Stuart Binny and Shardul Thakur's ouster
The selectors' decision to drop Thakur and Binny didn't come as a surprise. Over the years, the Indian team has opted in favour of the 'horses for courses' philosophy. But what this decision exposes is the confused policy of the selectors when it comes to picking fringe players. Uprooting them from domestic cricket for one-off tours does no favors to the confidence of players. Thakur and Binny didn't feature in a single game in the Caribbean. This also led to them missing out on crucial playing time on the domestic circuit or with the India A side. While one could argue in favour of the selectors too in this matter, Thakur and Binny have every right to feel let down. This is also an indicator that the duo will play no part in the next series against England as well, unless any of the incumbents are injured.