India squads – Cheteshwar Pujara’s return, Umran Malik and Arshdeep Singh in, Hardik Pandya vs Dinesh Karthik

A memory and a goodbye?

Cheteshwar Pujara is back in the test squad and he pretty much forced that decision to the selectors with his dashing form in the County Championship. How do you ignore 6, 201*, 109, 12, 203, 16, 170* and 3? The selectors may have also taken into account another reason in his recall: in the first four Tests of the series that will end in Edgbaston, he was arguably India’s best-performing midfielder, with his series average of 32.42 being the essential contributions he made. His strikes of 45 (from 206 balls) and 61 in the third inning helped India drag their way back to victory after leading in the first innings at Lord’s and The Oval respectively, and he scored the highest score for India with 91 in their defeat at Headingley.

Another strong hero isn’t part of the squad, though, and one might wonder if there’s a way back for Ishant Sharma now. He has been an ever-present face in India’s attacks abroad for so long, he’s slipped behind both Mohammed Siraj and Umesh Yadav in the fast-paced bowling lane for the past year and a half, and now it seems like Prasidh Krishna too, as India seeks out a successor in the high, hit-the-deck department.

However, a lack of match training could be a more direct reason for Ishant’s non-selection; he hasn’t played competitive cricket since a couple of Ranji Trophy matches in February-March, and those were his only matches since India’s home test series against New Zealand in November 2021. But with India’s tempo reserves constantly growing, one wonders where Ishant gets its next chance to grab attention and demand a recall.

Intention machines ignored

In the past three IPL seasons, Prithvi Shaw has achieved a strike rate of 152.84 in the power play. In the middle overs, Sanju Samson, meanwhile, has racked up strike rates of over 150 against both pace and spin. No other India contender comes close to matching those records.

But those kinds of intentions always come with a downside – both Shaw and Samson are averaging under 30 in IPL 2022, and this may be why neither are part of the Indian T20I squad, even though Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are outfitted and Suryakumar Yadav is injured.
Likewise, however, the selectors may refer to Ishan Kishan and Deepak Hooda — whose approach could be called similar to that of Shaw and Samson, respectively, even if their phase-wise IPL numbers don’t necessarily match — as counterexamples to suggest they aren’t quite attached to an old fashioned approach.
Long rope for long-term perspectives

Kishan (attack rate of 120.11) was far from his best during IPL 2022, while Venkatesh Iyer (average of 16.54, strike rate of 107.69) has had a season of horror. But both have retained their place in the T20I squad, suggesting that the selectors support the players they have identified as long-term prospects, and that IPL form is not a guarantee of selection or a deal breaker.

It also helps that both are left-handers who can bat in multiple positions, with one offering a wicketkeeping option and the other a sixth bowling option.

New quicks on the block

IPL 2022 has been a goldmine for India’s selectors in terms of the sheer number of uncapped fast bowlers who have impressed with their pace, skill and execution under pressure. Of that group – which also includes Mohsin Khan and Mukesh Choudhary – two have been called up to the T20I squad for the first time.

The two bring different but equally exciting skills to the table. Umran Malik’s sheer pace—consistently over 150km/h—and nose-to-toe lengths offer India a bruising option that could upset any lineup in the world. Arshdeep Singh is not that fast, but he is a left-armer with excellent defensive skills, as his thrift rate of 7.31 in IPL 2022 (the best in the league among bowlers who have knocked down at least ten overs at that stage) would recommend.
How do you fit Hardik and Karthik into the same XI?

Hardik Pandya would always come back to India’s white ball plans as soon as he went bowling again. And he hasn’t just started bowling again; his speeds have often surpassed 140 km/h, he has made the smartest use of hard lengths and tempo changes, and he sent down his full quota of overs in his first four matches of IPL 2022. A groin problem has since reduced his bowling output, but India doesn’t necessarily need him to bowl four overs every game. If he can bowl two while hitting the ball at even 80% of his potential, he would face the most T20 lineups in the world.

Speaking of ball-striking, check out Dinesh Karthik’s death-overs numbers from IPL 2022: 91 balls, 206 runs, a best-in-the-league strike rate of 226.37. At nearly 37, Karthik probably thought his best shot at knocking on the selectors’ doors was to grab an ax at them. He has long been one of the best players in Indian cricket, and he was clearly unlucky to have been out of the T20I squad for so long, despite boasting of world-class numbers during his most recent run on the side; but again, where do you fit him in the XI?
If Karthik’s other skill was turning part-time rather than keeping wicket, India would have no trouble answering that question. They would just beat Rishabh Pant, Hardik and Karthik on numbers 5, 6 and 7. However, as things stand, Karthik is a specialist who is not comfortable beating the order, and he is not the first choice goalkeeper. † With Hardik not being a guaranteed supplier of four overs, Karthik has to compete with a second all-rounder (Axar Patel in the current squad) for the number 7 slot, which is a tough match to win.

However, if he can seize the opportunities he gets during the series against South Africa, Karthik could still make a big case for being chosen as India’s reserve goalkeeper for the T20 World Cup.

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