Rohit Sharma named Test skipper, Pujara, Rahane and Ishant axed | Crickit
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Rohit Sharma named Test skipper, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Ishant Sharma axed

Feb 19, 2022 11:27 PM IST

The tapering Test careers of India No. 3 and No. 5, as well as the country’s most-capped pacer after Kapil Dev, seem to have halted after omission for the home Tests versus Sri Lanka

Two years after belatedly establishing himself in Tests as opener, Rohit Sharma, 34, has been handed Test captaincy after being chosen to lead in the two home Tests against Sri Lanka starting on March 4. Sharma, called “the No 1 player in the country” by chief selector Chetan Sharma and skipper of India’s white-ball teams, thus becomes the all-format captain. He succeeds Virat Kohli, who led in all the formats for nearly five years.

Sharma’s initiation as Test captain will mark a transition in the Test team with the axing of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane following their prolonged lean run.(AP)
Sharma’s initiation as Test captain will mark a transition in the Test team with the axing of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane following their prolonged lean run.(AP)

Kohli, after giving up T20I captaincy and losing the ODI post late last year, last led in the Cape Town Test against South Africa, before deciding to quit after the 1-2 series loss to solely focus on batting.

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Sharma’s initiation as Test captain will also mark a transition in the Test team with the axing of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane following their prolonged lean run. Ishant Sharma, India’s most capped new-ball bowler after Kapil Dev, and stumper Wriddhiman Saha, too have been dropped.

“The selectors have thought long and hard. We have spoken to them earlier and told them that for the two Tests against Sri Lanka, they won’t be considered,” Chetan Sharma, chairman of selectors, said in a virtual press meet on Saturday. “They have played for the country for so long, why not?” Sharma replied when asked if Pujara and Rahane can stage a comeback. “A cricketer's graph goes up and down. It is very important for the selectors to take care of the cricketers when they are going through a rough phase. You can't just strike their name permanently.”

But with the selectors focused on the future, this could be curtains for the 105-Test old Ishant Sharma and Saha, 37. Any immediate return for Pujara and Rahane is also unlikely.

Rahane’s batting has been on a decline. He has averaged 24.08 over 19 Tests since January 2020. Despite leading India to a memorable series win in Australia in 2020-21 after scoring an impressive hundred at Melbourne, he has failed to regain his old touch. The South Africa series was seen as a final chance for the two batters, but they didn’t turn their form around. To drop 95-Test veteran Pujara, India’s mainstay at No 3 since Rahul Dravid retired, would have taken careful consideration. After scoring 973 runs averaging 26.20 in 20 Tests in the last two years, selectors have ruled that the cracks are beyond immediate repair. “We will see how the ones who get chances do,” said Sharma. “We are nobody to close doors for anybody. Ranji Trophy is a ladder to international cricket.”

Hanuma Vihari, who has made every opportunity count, and Shreyas Iyer, who scored a hundred on debut against New Zealand at home, could become the regular replacements. Shubman Gill, on a comeback after shin injury, is also seen as a long-term middle-order contender.

GROOMING CAPTAINS

The selectors nominated Jasprit Bumrah as Sharma’s deputy but see others too as Sharma’s understudy for now. “Rohit was a clear choice for all of us. There was no discussion at all. We will prepare a leadership group under Rohit,” Chetan Sharma said.

KL Rahul, who was vice-captain in South Africa, is undergoing injury rehabilitation and is unavailable. Bumrah was Rahul’s deputy in the South Africa ODIs. With Bumrah and Rahul unavailable in the just-ended T20I series against West Indies, Rishabh Pant was vice-captain. “…it’s a selection committee call, who (vice-captain) we go forward with. We will get the results soon, hopefully,” he said.

The selectors indicated they would like Rohit Sharma to lead so long as his body can hold. “The longer Rohit leads, we will be happy,” he said. “Every cricketer is professional. They know their body. There is currently no problem at all with Rohit. We will continue to be in discussions with him.”

A fit-again Ravindra Jadeja returns while left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav makes a comeback and Uttar Pradesh’s left-arm spinner Sourabh Kumar has been added to the 18-man squad. R Ashwin has been chosen subject to fitness. Gujarat opener Priyank Panchal has also been included in the squad. Shardul Thakur has been rested for the T20Is and Tests against Sri Lanka. Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant left the team bio-bubble in Kolkata and have been rested for the T20Is.

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