Gautam Gambhir Retained, Pandya Earns Maiden Call Up

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New Delhi: The unavailability of KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan has extended Gautam Gambhir’s lease on life as an international cricketer, but the BCCI selectors sprung a surprise by including the uncapped Hardik Pandya in India’s 15-man squad for the first two Tests of the five-match series against England staring November 9 in Rajkot.

A thigh strain to Rohit Sharma, which reportedly will keep him out of action for six to eight weeks, has apparently forced the selectors to include Pandya as an all-round option.

MSK Prasad, the chief selector, said of Pandya’s inclusion: “Pandya’s pace has increased, he is moving the ball, his batsmanship has improved. He is one allrounder we thought is an equally competent bowler and batsman. And a good fielder too, much quicker and better bowler than Stuart. With form and fitness, Hardik is a better option.”

Pandya, 23, made his ODI and T20I debuts this year and has been included for the first time in India’s Test squad. The Baroda allrounder has played 16 first-class matches, scoring 727 runs at 27.96 with a best of 90 and 22 wickets at 33.72, with a solitary five-wicket haul. The uncapped pair of Haryana allrounder Jayant Yadav and Karnataka batsman Karun Nair – who came in as replacements for Ishant Sharma and Dhawan against New Zealand – have been retained. This means that Virat Kohli has four spinners to choose from, with Jayant Yadav’s offspin following R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra.

Ishant has returned after missing the New Zealand series while recovering from the mosquito-borne viral infection chikungunya, but there is no Bhuvneshwar Kumar as he has not proved his full recovery from a back strain picked up during the last series. Ishant’s most recent matches have been for Delhi in the ongoing Ranji Trophy, where he has bowled 62 overs for five wickets.

The selection committee took into consideration the fitness report of the Indian team’s physiotherapist Patrick Earhart, in which it was confirmed that Rahul (hamstring) and Dhawan (minor thumb fracture) have yet to fully recover from injuries sustained during the recent Test series against New Zealand. This confirms Gambhir as one half of the Indian team’s opening pair, with no other opener picked.

Kohli’s team is ranked No 1 in Tests, while England are at fourth. England last toured India in late 2012, famously winning the Test series 2-1 after being beaten in the series opener in Ahmedabad. Skipper Alastair Cook was at the forefront of England’s revival, scoring a marathon 176 in the second innings in Ahmedabad to show his team how to tame India’s rampaging spinners. In Mumbai, he laid the foundations for victory with a steely 122 while Kevin Pietersen made merry and then in Kolkata went a step further and recorded a historic 23rd century to put his team in a commanding position as India were beaten in back-to-back home Tests for the first time since 1999-00.

The series begins in Rajkot on November 9, followed by Tests in Visakhapatnam (November 17-21), Mohali (November 26-30), Mumbai (December 8-12) and Chennai (December 16-20).

India squad: Virat Kohli (capt), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Cheteshwar Pujara, Gautam Gambhir, Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ishant Sharma, Murali Vijay, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Hardik Pandya, Jayant Yadav

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