File image of T Natarajan(BCCI)
File image of T Natarajan(BCCI)

Natarajan joins Test squad; Sharma deputy

Sharma’s addition leaves the team management with a difficult choice of either playing an extra specialist batsman or dropping one from the team which won in Melbourne.
By Sanjjeev K Samyal | Mumbai
UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2021 11:13 PM IST

Left-arm fast bowler T Natarajan’s fairytale continued as he was added to India’s Test squad, where Rohit Sharma will replace Cheteshwar Pujara as vice-captain, for the remaining two matches against Australia.

Sharma’s addition leaves the team management with a difficult choice of either playing an extra specialist batsman or dropping one from the team which won in Melbourne.

Sharma being named vice-captain can be interpreted as being an automatic selection in the XI. It means there’s a good chance of India adding a batsman and going with a two spinner-two pace bowler combination for the Sydney Test where the wicket is known to offer spin. They will have the back-up of Hanuma Vihari’s part-time off-spin for the Test beginning on January 7.

If India don’t play an extra specialist batsman one of the opening batsmen, Mayank Agarwal or Shubman Gill, or Vihari will have to be dropped to accommodate Sharma.

Ever since he was promoted as opener, Sharma has been prolific but he hasn’t had time to acclimatise. Recovering from a hamstring injury during the last Indian Premier League, Sharma underwent a long rehab at the National Cricket Academy and missed the first leg of the tour. After arriving in Australia he had to undergo the 14-day long strict quarantine and missed the second Test. So Sharma would need to get used to the pace, bounce and movement without a practice game.

After winning the second Test, coach Ravi Shastri had said: “We’ll see how he is doing physically; he’s coming after a long quarantine. We have to check how he feels before we take a call.”

Asked about the changes he would like to see in India’s XI for the third Test, Gavaskar had said on Sony Sports Network: “I would be keeping Mayank Agarwal. I know he’s not looked good but he’s a quality player. I would keep him in the side and open the batting with Rohit.”

“Despite the fact that Shubman Gill has looked so good at the top, I’d look to bat him at No.5. I’m not too sure, that with his approach he would be too successful at the opening position also at the U-19 level he was batting down the order so I think for Shubman Gill No.5 would be the ideal position. The rest of the team should remain same and obviously if Gill bats at five, Vihari goes out automatically.”

Natarajan replaces the injured Umesh Yadav who sustained a calf injury while bowling during the second Test. For the third seamer’s spot, India will have to choose from Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur and Natarajan. Natarajan doesn’t have much experience of the red ball cricket but will offer great variety to the attack along with Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj. Thakur will be handy as a lower-order batsman and is a seasoned first-class cricketer. With the ability to consistently clock 140-plus, Saini offers pace.

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