Ishant, Hardik named in India's 18-member squad for first two England Tests

Virat Kohli, who went on a paternity leave after the first Test against Australia, is back as the captain for the Test series against England, which begins in Chennai from February 5.

File Picture of Ishant Sharma.   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Captain Virat Kohli, speedster Ishant Sharma, middle-order batsman Hardik Pandya and left-arm spinner Axar Patel have been recalled to India’s Test squad for the first two of the four-Test series against England - which begins in Chennai from February 5.

Despite the meeting having been planned for Wednesday, the BCCI - in a late-night development on Monday - rescheduled it for Tuesday morning. As a result, the rejigged selection committee headed by Chetan Sharma picked the 18-member squad via videoconferencing.

Kohli, who is on a paternity leave, left the Indian team after the first Test against Australia in Adelaide. And now, he is back to lead the team.

A side strain during the Indian Premier League had ruled Ishant out of the Australia tour, but the veteran pacer has proven his match-fitness during Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and will be leading the pace attack along with Jasprit Bumrah.

READ: Focus on Ishant, Kohli ahead of selection committee meeting

Hardik, meanwhile, has been selected purely as a batsman. Pandya has not featured in a Test match since he suffered a back injury during the 2018 Asia Cup. Having proven his mettle purely as a batsman, Hardik has replaced injured Hanuma Vihari in the Test squad.

Similarly, Axar Patel has come in as Ravindra Jadeja’s like-for-like replacement. Jadeja’s fitness status, along with that Vihari, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, will be reassessed during the second Test.

The selectors seem to have had enough of opener Prithvi Shaw, whose technical flaws were exposed in the series-opener in Adelaide besides the preceding IPL. No wonder that Shaw doesn’t feature even among the five stand-byes announced for the first two Tests.

READ: India to tour England for five-match Test series in 2021

Besides the experienced pace duo, Shardul Thakur and Mohammed Siraj - two key players during India’s historic win in Brisbane - have been retained for the series. So is Washington Sundar, who proved his utility as a spin-bowling all-rounder in Brisbane. Washington’s Tamil Nadu teammate T. Natarajan missed out on selection as he is omitted from the squad and the net bowlers’ list.

Considering the need to maintain the sanctity of the bio-secure bubble, the selectors have also shortlisted five standbyes and five net bowlers. Openers K.L. Rahul (in the squad) and Priyank Panchal (standbye) will have to prove their fitness at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru before joining the squad in Chennai.

The squad

Virat Kohli (captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rishabh Pant, Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal, Wriddhiman Saha, Hardik Pandya, KL Rahul (subject to fitnsess after first Test),  Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, R Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Washington Sundar, Axar Patel.

Standbyes: KS Bharat (wicketkeeper), Abhimanyu Easwaran, Shahbaz Nadeem, Rahul Chahar, Priyank Panchal (subject to fitness)

Net bowlers: Ankit Rajpoot, Avesh Khan, Sandeep Warrier, K Gowtham, Saurabh Kumar

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