India Tour of England 2014: Picking an Alternative India Test XI

Jaideep VaidyaAnalyst IJune 18, 2014

India Tour of England 2014: Picking an Alternative India Test XI

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    The Board of Control for Cricket in India last month announced an 18-member touring party that will visit England for a five-Test series in the summer, starting July 9 at Trent Bridge, Nottingham.

    While most of the squad members picked themselves, there were a few surprise inclusions and exclusions as well, which have been discussed earlier.

    Meanwhile, the Indian selectors picked a second-string squad to tour Bangladesh for three one-day internationals in Dhaka, in what was a rather make-shift series wedged in the gap between the Indian Premier League and the England tour.

    While the decision to pick a weakened squad for Bangladesh had its critics prior to the start of the series, the Indians have responded by winning the first two ODIs and sealing the series before the third match on Thursday.

    India were always going to send their best players to England, but with the selection debates over the last couple of weeks surrounding both series, it would be an interesting experiment to ponder over an alternate Indian Test XI.

    We decided to give it a go and here's our pick of a rather different-looking Indian Test XI from what you will see during the England tour. Note that the players on this team have been picked after taking into account the following criteria:

    1. Form in the last 12 months (including domestic season)
    2. Technical skills and talent to thrive in England
    3. Experience and reputation

    Have a look at our XI and let us know if you agree or would have picked someone else.

1. Robin Uthappa (captain)

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    The 28-year-old Indian Robin Uthappa can hardly put a foot wrong nowadays. Coming from a hugely successful Indian Premier League, in which he was the season's highest run-scorer, Uthappa was rewarded with a spot in the Bangladesh ODIs and both India A squads for a four-day and limited-overs tour of Australia later this year.

    Following the 2013 IPL season, Uthappa has made distinct changes to his batting style, most noticeably to his stance. The earlier closed and upright one is long gone. Uthappa now can be seen crouching lower at the point of delivery, which has made him a lot more flexible while going for his shots. Ever since this Uthappa 2.0 has been unleashed, he hasn't been able to stop scoring runs.

    He was an integral part of Karnataka's successful Ranji Trophy campaign and was one of the key reasons Kolkata Knight Riders won their second IPL trophy in three years.

    If Uthappa can continue with his glorious form, especially on the India A tour to Australia, he would be giving himself the best chance to be selected for India's four-Test tour of Australia later this year.

2. Virender Sehwag

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    Virender Sehwag just about pips Maharashtra batsman Harshad Khadiwale, who scored more than 1,000 runs in the 2013-14 Ranji Trophy, to the second opener's spot because, well, he's Virender Sehwag.

    The 35-year-old last played for India in March 2013, before he was dropped for a sustained drought of runs. The once-famed hand-eye coordination and lightning reflexes that made Sehwag one of the most dangerous batsmen in the world in his prime was considered long gone. He now wears glasses and a distinct paunch. See-ball-hit-ball had become see-ball-miss-ball.

    Not many could remember his last noteworthy innings on a cricket field before the second qualifier of IPL 7, where Kings XI Punjab took on two-time champions Chennai Super Kings for a spot in the final. He had an ordinary IPL season, scoring 326 runs in 16 matches at an average of just 21.8.

    But after what Sehwag did on May 30 at the Wankhede Stadium, we just could not leave him out of this team. His 15-year international experience in what has been a prolific batting career also boosts his credentials.

3. KL Rahul (wicketkeeper)

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    An opener by trade, KL Rahul takes the vital No. 3 spot in the team after a spectacular Ranji Trophy season in which he was the second-highest run-scorer, including a match-winning century in the final.

    The 22-year-old right-hander is a technically sound batsman and an impeccable timer of the ball. Combined with his ability to stay rooted at the crease for long periods, his name, Rahul, has resulted in comparisons with the legendary Rahul Dravid, who is also from Karnataka.

    Adept at playing both on front and back foot, Rahul would be an interesting selection for a tour of England and would ideally slot into his preferred opener's slot, but he is forced a spot down on this list. That's not to say he wouldn't thrive wherever he plays.

    Rahul also keeps for Karnataka and, thus, naturally takes the wicketkeepers' gloves on this team. 

4. Sanju Samson

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    In the slam-bang instant-cricket formula that is Twenty20, not many batsmen worry about the batting manuals. As long as you twist and turn your body and bat in a way that you're scoring runs, nobody cares.

    Sanju Samson is a different breed. Just 19 years of age, the right-handed batsman from Kerala has found an extremely attractive way of scoring runs in the IPL while maintaining the pure form of batting. 

    Everything about his shot is textbook perfect: the shaping of the body, timing and placement. Add to that his aggressiveness, and you've got yourself a complete batsman. It's no wonder that Rahul Dravid called him a "special talent", as reported by Wisden India. Even Sachin Tendulkar was full of praise for the youngster, per Cricket Australia.

    Having gained valuable international experience playing regularly for the Indian under-19 team since the last IPL, Samson's confidence has only grown since then. He's an automatic pick for the crucial No. 4 spot in the batting line-up.

5. Kedar Jadhav

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    Kedar Jadhav is the first name to go on the team sheet, following a spectacular domestic season where he ended up as the highest run-scorer in the Ranji Trophy, with 1,223 runs—the fourth-highest tally in a single season. Those runs came at a staggering average of 87.35 and included six centuries.

    Jadhav comes across as a batsman suited for the limited-overs game, with a free-flowing, rather Sehwag-esque style of batting. In an interview with India Today's Rasesh Mandani, he even admitted that he takes his inspiration from the Nawab of Najafgarh. 

    However, after his stellar Ranji season, there's not many who can point any fingers at him, and he deserves a chance in the national team. Picked for the Bangladesh tour, he is yet to play with just one game to go.

    Jadhav has just one hope: to "retire as an India player," as he admitted in the interview.

6. Karun Nair

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    Karun Nair is another one of Karnataka's young batsmen who shone last season and played an instrumental part in the team's wins in the Ranji Trophy and Irani Trophy. 

    Playing in his debut Ranji season, the 22-year-old got his break in the group stages when Uthappa got injured. He made the most of it as he hit centuries in three successive matches, including the quarter-finals and the semi-finals. As the cherry on the cake, he also hit the winning six that won Karnataka their first title in 15 years.

    Another classical batsman, Nair is a delight to watch out in the middle. As he showed in the IPL (330 runs at a strike rate of 142.24), he's also capable of accelerating and loves to cut and pull. He is a man for the long stand and ideally would come in much earlier than No. 6, but he is pegged back here due to the names above him.

     

7. Yuvraj Singh

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    Yuvraj Singh is a bit of a wild-card pick for this team, going purely by instinct rather than statistics or logic. The 32-year-old last played a Test for India in December 2012 against England at home and has since been restricted to appearances in coloured clothing.

    On of the main reasons for his picking is the lack of any other all-rounder to choose from. His pie-chucking slow left-arm orthodox would allow the main bowlers a bit of a breather, and we hope he would contribute with the bat as well. 

    During India's last tour of England in 2011, Yuvraj played in just the one Test at Trent Bridge, where he scored a half-century in the first innings but suffered a torrid time facing short-pitched bowling in the second. Finally, he was out after the ball from Tim Bresnan hit his hand and looped up for a simple catch. To add insult to injury, the blow to his hand meant he missed the rest of the series.

    Yuvraj had a decent IPL including one match in which his vintage form was in full flow. Knowing what he is capable of, you'd just want to give him that one last chance again.

8. Zaheer Khan

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    Zaheer Khan was one of the surprise exclusions from the Indian squad. He had pulled out of the IPL after just six games due to injury but was expected to be fit for the England tour.

    While it is still unclear whether he was dropped due to injury, perhaps the selectors went back to the previous tour in 2011 when he pulled out of the tour after just one game.

    That being said, Zaheer, 35, had rejuvenated himself last year following a successful physical conditioning trip in Europe in which he shed oodles of weight and came back as a fit and trim fast bowler. Picked on the tours of South Africa and New Zealand earlier this year, Zaheer impressed with his swing, line and length and looked a natural choice for England.

    However, his name was not to be found among seven other medium-pace and fast bowlers in the Indian 18. It is irresistible to play Zaheer in the seamer-friendly conditions in England, and he is another automatic pick in our team.

9. Amit Mishra

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    With India going in with just the two spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, leggie Amit Mishra missed out on the tour, in spite of successful and consistent performances over the last year or so. 

    Mishra's uncanny ability to deceptively flight the ball and generate a good amount of turn makes him a tricky customer to be facing as a batsman, but perhaps his restricted abilities with the bat is what kept him out of the final cut for the selectors.

    Nevertheless, Mishra takes the lone spinner's spot in our team and we're most grateful.

10. Umesh Yadav

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    The exclusion of express fast bowler Umesh Yadav from the touring party to England was the most perplexing out of the lot.

    Experts were stunned, as reported by Scroll.in, as to how a bowler of Yadav's repertoire had been left out of a squad that includes as many as seven bowlers who are not spinners. Given India's restraints in unearthing talented and genuinely quick bowlers, the debate was whether the selectors had erred by leaving a bowler who bowls in the mid-140s out.

    Yadav has had his share of injury problems in the past and has even been guilty of struggling to maintain his consistency, but he was looking good over the last few months and had done reasonably well (11 wickets in 12 matches) in the Indian Premier League on tracks tailor-made for batting.

    He has also been generating a good amount of away movement from the right-hander, and his selection for England seemed like a no-brainer, at least to us.

11. Mohit Sharma

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    The 25-year-old Mohit Sharma is coming off two very successful IPL seasons and has also been dishing out consistently good performances in the Indian domestic circuit for a while.

    His name first did the rounds in the Indian cricketing scene during the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season, when he ended up as the sixth-highest wicket-taker with 37 scalps in eight matches. 

    In the 2013 IPL, Sharma made the CSK starting XI regularly all season and went on to take 20 wickets in 15 games in his first season. The following year, he outdid himself as he ended up as the season's highest wicket-taker, with 23 victims in 16 matches and a best of four for 14.

    Sharma isn't the quickest of bowlers in the world by a long way. He manages to clock himself in the 130s but makes up for his lack of pace with a smooth delivery stride, unflinching line and length in the channel just outside off-stump from a decent height (5'11") and a good out-swinger to the right-handed batsman. He also has an unflappable slower one, which he likes to use a lot.

    It would be interesting to see how he would perform in a place like England in Tests, even though he is regarded as more of a limited-overs bowler.