Team India will begin its campaign for the third iteration of the World Test Championship (WTC) against West Indies with a two-match series starting Wednesday at Windsor Park in Dominica.
In the WTC 2023 final, Rohit Sharma’s men suffered a crushing 209-run defeat against Australia at the Oval in London, missing out on winning the title for the second time in a row, the previous being an eight-wicket loss to New Zealand in Southampton in 2021.
The West Indies tour will be the only red-ball series for the men-in-blue before the highly anticipated 2023 ODI World Cup hosted by India in October-November.
With some new faces coming in and regulars like Chetestwar Pujara and Mohammed Shami not finding a way into the team, India is likely to play a different team than usual.
In terms of the top order, one of Ruturaj Gaikwad or Yashasvi Jaiswal is expected to make a Test debut, with Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, and Rohit available.
The spin-bowling department sees similar faces with Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel in the mix.
The fast bowling set-up comprises Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj, Jaydev Unadkat, Navdeep Saini and Mukesh Kumar.
In the absence of Shami, Siraj is expected to lead the pack alongside Thakur, the two pacers who made the playing XI at the WTC 2023 final and are potential candidates to spearhead India’s pace attack in the first Test.
The 29-year-old from Hyderabad is India’s leading wicket-taker in ODIs and second only to Shami in Tests among pace bowlers in 2023.
Thakur could find himself in the team due to his batting exploits down the order. His valiant fifty and a hundred-run stand for the seventh wicket with Ajinkya Rahane in the WTC final, which also placed him alongside the likes of Don Bradman and Allan Border in scoring three consecutive fifties at London’s Oval, could improve his chances of being a regular in Rohit’s team.
If India decides to go with a three-pronged pace attack alongside two spinners, Unadkat could pip Saini and Mukesh in the race to the playing XI.
Unadkat, who played his second Test against Bangladesh after a gap of 12 years in December 2022, travelled with India in London as the fifth pacer.
The Saurashtra captain, who led his team to the Ranji title in February 2023 with nine wickets in the final against Bengal, hasn’t been provided with enough chances to replicate his mastery with the red ball on the international stage.
In the only two Tests he played, Unadkat could only manage three wickets at an average of 56.0 and a strike rate of 102.0. However, with a comparatively easier opposition - West Indies, being the shadow of their former self, he could be lethal with his pertinent line-and-length.
Siraj, who could also be India’s primary mainstay in the ODI World Cup, might be given a rest in the second Test, opening a slot for another pacer in the team.
In this case, Saini makes a stronger case for himself in the team ahead of Bengal’s right-arm pacer, Mukesh.
Saini, who played for the senior team in the famous Australia 2021 series, is returning to the team after playing for Worcestershire in the second division of the County Championship.
However, Saini could only manage a solitary wicket on his only outing in the County. Whereas, Mukesh, who was picked up by Delhi Capitals for a hefty sum of Rs. 5.50 crore, picked seven wickets in 10 matches in IPL 2023.
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