Team India’s selection for the first two Tests of the upcoming series against Australia as part of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy has led to plenty of debate. Suryakumar Yadav has been picked in the 17-member squad based on his T20I exploits, although he has hardly played any red-ball cricket in recent years. Also, Ishan Kishan has been named the second wicket-keeper in the Test squad in Rishabh Pant’s absence due to his car accident. As per some news reports, he might even pip KS Bharat, who has been the standby keeper in the Test squad since many consider the left-hander a like-for-like replacement for Pant.
On the contrary, there is no place for Sarfaraz Khan, who has been in stupendous domestic form over the last two, three reasons. The 25-year-old Mumbai batter has a sensational first-class record. In 37 matches, he has notched 3505 runs at an average of 79.65, with 13 hundreds and nine fifties. In the 2019-20 season, he clobbered 928 runs in six matches at an average of 154.67. Sarfaraz was the leading run-getter in the 2021-22 season, with 982 runs in six games, averaging 122.75.
In the ongoing season, he scored 556 runs in six matches, averaging over 92. Not surprisingly, he was expecting a call-up to the Indian squad for the Border-Gavaskar Tests against Australia. However, he was snubbed again as white-ball stars Kishan and Suryakumar got the nod. Carrying on with the tradition of not having a press conference to explain the selections, the team was just announced via a press release on the official BCCI website. And so, there is no clarity over the reasons behind selections and exclusions in the Test team.
Basis of Kishan and SKY’s selection?
24-year-old Kishan has played 48 first-class matches since his debut in December 2014. He has scored 2985 at an average of 38.76, with six hundreds and 16 fifties. An average of under 40 is quite disappointing for a player in first-class cricket. Also, the keeper-batter only played two matches in the ongoing Ranji season, in which he scored one hundred, before joining the Indian team for white-ball duty. He has hardly played domestic cricket lately since he was with the Indian team.
Ditto is the case in Suryakumar. The Ranji Trophy match against Hyderabad in December was the 32-year-old batter’s first match in domestic cricket since February 2020. The right-handed batter scored 90 against Hyderabad and 95 & 38 versus Saurashtra before joining the Indian team for the white-ball series against Sri Lanka. SKY does have a decent first-class record – 5549 runs in 79 matches at an average of 44.75, with 14 hundreds and 28 fifties. However, many others have done much better. The bigger worry is that both Kishan and Suryakumar will go into the massive Test series against Australia with hardly any red-ball cricket behind them, which is far from ideal.
What’s the issue with picking Sarfaraz?
According to some media reports, the selectors may be concerned about Mumbai’s batter weight and overall fitness. In an era of yo-yo tests, an overweight Sarfaraz doesn’t fit into their scheme of things. But Indian batting legend Sunil Gavaskar made an apt observation over Sarfaraz’s snub, pointing out that unfit batters don’t score hundred after hundred. Taking a dig at the selectors, he told India Today, “At the end of the day, if you are unfit, you are not going to score hundreds. So cricket fitness is most important. I don’t have a problem with you wanting to do the Yo-Yo test or whatever it is, but the Yo-Yo test cannot be the only criterion. You got to make sure that the man is fit for cricket as well. And if the person, whoever it is, is fit for cricket, then I don’t think it should really matter.”
Gavaskar further pointed out that Sarfaraz was not staying off the field after scoring hundreds and was coming back on the field again, which proves that he is fit for cricket. In his inimitable style, he told the selectors, “If you are looking for only slim and trim guys, then you might as well go to a fashion show and pick some models and then give them a bat and ball in their hand and then include them.” Coming from someone who scored 10,000 runs in Test cricket against the best bowling attacks, the selectors must take Gavaskar’s assessment seriously.
Sarfaraz’s case is not an isolated one. Saurashtra left-arm seamer Jaydev Unadkat had to wait 12 years to return to the Test team after a forgettable debut. This despite consistently performing on the domestic stage. Then, there is the case of veteran Kerala all-rounder Jalaj Saxena, who has a stupendous record but has never come close to selection – 6552 runs and 405 wickets in 132 matches. Under the scenario, the Test selection of Kishan and Suryakumar seems quite a paradox.
While one can understand that the Indian Premier League (IPL) has become the main source for the selectors to pick players in the white-ball squad, mixing the formats can prove to be lethal for Indian cricket. It is important to identify which player suits which format. Picking players in the Test team based on their white-ball form is insulting to those doing the hard yards in domestic cricket, especially those who have been on it for years. It is also demotivating for Sarfaraz players who see less deserving players (in red-ball cricket) getting the nod, even as he is unsure why he isn’t getting picked.
Domestic cricket has been the supply line for India’s red-ball cricket for ages. And while the selectors can look to the IPL, for understandable reasons, to choose white-ball players, ignoring domestic cricket can only be detrimental to Indian cricket. Period.