Ajinkya Rahane (Pic: AFP)
In a massive boost to Team India, Ajinkya Rahane made a comeback in the Playing XI on Tuesday for the World Test Championship (WTC) final against Australia as the BCCI announced a 15-man squad for the one-off contest. The WTC final will be played in London at the Oval from June 7 to 11.
Aggressive batter Suryakumar Yadav, spinner Kuldeep Yadav and young stumper-batter Ishan Kishan, who were all part of the home series against Australia, failed to find a place in the team's starting XI. BCCI's five-man selection panel, Secretary Jay Shah along with skipper Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid met on Monday evening to decide on the squad.
Rahane's comeback after 15 months was on predictable lines following Shreyas Iyer's back injury that ruled him out of the grand finale. Iyer recently underwent surgery in the UK to treat stress fractures in his lower back.
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Rahane last played a Test in January, 2022 against South Africa in Cape Town. His selection has more to do with carrying enough experienced batters in the line-up as Indian teams have had their share of struggles in SENA countries during one-off encounters.
The 34-year-old, who led Mumbai during the entire domestic season, scored nearly 700 runs but what stood out was how he has improved his attacking game in the IPL and is looking more purposeful than ever before with a strike-rate of 190 in seven games so far.
The rest of the squad was on predictable lines. However, there is no designated vice-captain for the WTC final although it is expected that Chesteshwar Pujara, who was Sharma's deputy in the last two Test matches against Australia at home, would be asked to take charge. Pujara is currently leading Sussex in the English County Championship.
Since it is a one-off game, the selectors may not have found it logical to have a second keeper on the side. There is every chance that team management might try struggling KL Rahul not only as a middle order but also as a keeper and Rahane could play as an extra batter.
There are at least four bowling all-rounders in the squad including Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel, and Shardul Thakur. With the Oval usually assisting spinners during later stages of the game, a second slow bowler could come in handy.
Batting deep will be the Indian team's mantra and that's been the basis of selection for the one-off game. Jadeja, in overseas conditions is nowadays, more of a batting all-rounder and Axar is also transforming more into a specialist middle-order batter.
Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj along with Shardul Thakur will be in contention for the first three seam bowling slots. The only man, who as of now, might not be in contention to be selected in the playing XI is Jaydev Unadkat, the fifth seamer. He could help the batters prepare for Mitchell Starc's left arm angle although it will be difficult for the Saurashtra veteran to match the New South Wales man's pace.
Rohit Sharma (captain), Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, K L Rahul, KS Bharat (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav and Jaydev Unadkat
(With PTI inputs)