Tough choices for selectors ahead of NZ series

The relevance of Rohit Sharma in the Test squad is likely to be debated as Indian selectors meet on Monday to decide the Test squad for the upcoming series against New Zealand.

Rohit Sharma (centre) played two innings in the West Indies series, with modest returns.   -  AP

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) may have rolled over a new procedure to appoint national selectors. However, that wouldn’t drift the focus away from the national selection panel’s meeting on Monday to finalise India’s squad for the forthcoming three-Test series at home against New Zealand, starting from September 22.

Monday’s meeting will set the roadmap for what will be a gruelling season of Test matches at home. India are set to play 13 Test matches at home in the six-month window starting with the series against Kane Williamson’s unpredictable bunch. And the squad composition will give away an indication on how the new captain-coach combine of Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble would strategically approach the season.

Kumble’s first selection meeting as India coach could well turn out to be the swansong for at least three selectors, including chairman of the panel Sandeep Patil. Vikram Rathour, Saba Karim and Patil will complete four years into the job, the maximum prescribed for a selector according to existing BCCI rules, and whether they will be able to select another India squad will depend on whether the Lodha panel, appointed to oversee the administrative overhaul of Indian cricket ordered by the Supreme Court, allows them an extension.

Patil and Co will primarily have three issues to take care of on Monday: the squad size, Shikhar Dhawan’s spot as an opener and possible options for a third spinner.

Curtailing the squad

It is all but certain that the selectors will hack the squad size from 17 players who had toured the West Indies. If the selectors stick to the conventional squad of 15, it is all but certain that Shardul Thakur, the young Mumbai pacer who had been selected for the West Indies tour primarily to get a feel of India’s dressing room, and Karnataka all-rounder Stuart Binny will miss out.

It is understood that coach Kumble has passed a suggestion to not include more than 13 players in the squad for any Test match at home. However, considering that the reserves will not miss any domestic matches for the first two Test matches, it will be unlikely to be implemented at least for the New Zealand series. The selectors, meanwhile, are understood to be waiting to know the captain’s inclination about the squad size.

>Read:Ahead of team selection, fans chant ‘bring back Gambhir’

Dhawan dilemma

Contrary to public perception about Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara’s position in the batting order, the selectors are likely to discuss Shikhar Dhawan’s position as an opening batsman in the squad.

Ever since he missed the last two Tests in Sri Lanka after scoring a century in the first match last year, Dhawan has appeared to have lost his touch with the willow. In his 11 innings since returning from an injury layoff, Dhawan has managed to score just one fifty. With K.L. Rahul having emerged as a reliable opening batsman, Dhawan lost his place in the team for the last Test in the Caribbean islands.

It would be interesting to see if the selectors consider other options as the third opener in place of Dhawan. The key will obviously be the captain’s wish since the selectors are unlikely to take any drastic calls towards the end of their stint.

The third spinner’s slot

When it comes to the bowling department, the spin bowling composition will be the most critical factor. Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja both found limited success in West Indies, playing the supporting role to an on-song R. Ashwin.

It would be interesting to see if the selectors draft in either Jayant Yadav or Kuldeep Yadav in place of either Mishra or Jadeja. While Jayant, the Haryana off-spinning all-rounder, has had an impressive tour of Australia with the India A squad, chinaman Kuldeep put in notable performances in the Duleep Trophy.