By Khurram Habib
New Delhi, June 16 | Five members of India’s extended Test squad, who were left out of the 15-member squad for World Test Championship (WTC) final, would have spent two months without competitive cricket by the time Test series against England starts in early August.
Four of these — Axar Patel, Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, and KL Rahul — are adept at white ball cricket but would instead be watching from the confines of their hotel rooms in England another Indian team playing white ball cricket in Sri Lanka.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has forced teams to send extended squads as travel has become difficult due to the long and mandatory quarantine periods. While the Indian Test squad will be busy with the WTC final (June 18-22) and a five-Test series in August-September, a limited-overs team will be playing an ODI and a T20I series in Sri Lanka from July 13 to 25.
The white ball series is an opportunity for players to stake claim in the squad for T20 World Cup to be held in October-November and it will be interesting to find out how missing an opportunity to prove themselves will impact the chances of Sundar, Patel, Thakur and Rahul.
Sundar, considered a white-ball specialist before his contributions in the Test series wins in Australia and at home against England, turned him into a Test player, could lose a chance to represent India at the World Cup since India have picked six spinners for Sri Lanka. Those six include Krunal Pandya and Krishnappa Gowtham who are all-rounders like Sundar.
Axar Patel too finds himself in the same category of an all-rounder in T20 cricket and unless Ravindra Jadeja, who too could be in the T20 World Cup squad, gets injured or goes out of form, the Gujarat left-arm spinner will sit out all Test matches in England.
Thakur could get a chance in the five-Test series but for Rahul travelling without playing Tests is becoming a norm. He went to Australia but was not played in a single Test. He hasn’t played a Test match since August 2019.
Sarandeep Singh, who has recently finished his stint as a national selector, says the situation can’t be helped.
“In these times of Covid-19, it would have been difficult to release them for the trip to Sri Lanka, since they would have had to undergo quarantine after reaching Sri Lanka and on return to England. It is not easy for players to keep travelling in bio-bubbles and undergo quarantines,” Sarandeep told IANS.
“The ICC mandates that teams carry extended squads, so there was no choice except to pick your best Test players and fly them in extended squads.”
One option could have been to let these players arrive in England after the end of the trip to Sri Lanka since India don’t play anything other than the WTC final in the two full months of June and July. But then India would have walked a tight rope with less quality players to pick from in case of an injury for the WTC final and during intra-squad matches.
Sarandeep also feels giving youngsters a chance to represent India against a relatively easy opponent Sri Lanka is important.
“The thinking behind the team that has been picked for Sri Lanka is to give others, especially youngsters, an opportunity. Imagine if Rahul were travelling, one of Devdutt Padikkal or Prithvi Shaw or maybe both could have missed out and could not have been tested,” added Sarandeep.
While Rahul is an established player and can still make his way into the white-ball squad, others could lose out if the players going to Sri Lanka performs well.
It could lead to a problem for selectors and for someone like Axar, who picked 27 wickets in three Tests against England at home, it could be no cricket for the next few months.