All-rounder Hardik Pandya was the lone new face even as senior speedster Ishant Sharma made a comeback, after recovering from Chikungunya, in the 15-member Indian Test squad announced on Wednesday for the first two matches against England starting November 9 in Rajkot.
While KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were left out due to fitness related issues, batsman Rohit Sharma was also out forced out by a thigh injury which might require surgery.
Veteran opener Gautam Gambhir was retained in the squad after scoring a half century in the Indore Test against New Zealand.
Karun Nair is the reserve batsman and Jayant Yadav is the fourth spinner in the squad after Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra.
The pace duo of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav retained their places in the side. Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay, on the other hand, were automatic inclusions.
The selection committee chaired by MSK Prasad fielded maximum queries regarding Pandya's inclusion and he stated that his “all-round abilities” with a sea change in attitude after working under India A coach Rahul Dravid went in his favour.
“If you look at Hardik Pandya, his pace has increased.
His overall personality has mellowed down. He did extremely well in the ODI series and also during the A tour Down Under,” Prasad told the mediapersons.
Prasad admitted that Pandya is one of the few seamer all-rounders that India has at the moment.
“We all have been trying to find an all-rounder after Kapil Dev. In case we play three spinners, he can be the second seamer and also can bat,” Prasad reasoned.
Asked about Pandya's attitude, Prasad said: “We all know he is a bit hyper. But he has worked hard under Rahul Dravid and under chief coach Anil Kumble.”
About Karun, who was included as a standby in the final Test at Indore, Prasad said: “We have been grooming him (Karun Nair) for the last one or two years.”
The chairman said Bhuvneshwar Kumar has recovered from his back injury but the selection committee wants the UP seamer to at least play a Ranji game and prove his match fitness. Ditto for KL Rahul (hamstring) and Shikhar Dhawan (finger fracture).
As far as Rohit is concerned, Prasad said: “Rohit has an injury. It could take anything between 6-8 weeks and he might have to go for a surgery.”
Virat Kohli (captain), Murali Vijay, Gautam Gambhir, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Karun Nair, Hardik Pandya, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jayant Yadav.
Prasad said that Sturat Binny's name was also discussed but the committee felt that Hardik with his increased pace is a better bowler.
“Hardik is a better bowler than Stuart. Stuart's name was also considered but we felt on current form, Hardik is better.”
On fast bowlers workload, Prasad said:”Apart from injury management, we are looking at workload management. We are not struggling when somebody is not fit. We have quite a few players who are doing really well. Lot of cricket is going to some, in case there is injury, we have enough back-up. We are thinking 10 times before picking a player.”