India’s Test squad for the upcoming two-match series against the West Indies in the Caribbean has witnessed the exclusion of Cheteshwar Pujara. The 16-man squad, which marks India’s initiation into the 2023-25 World Test Championship cycle, features the uncapped players Ruturaj Gaikwad, Yashasvi Jaiswal, and Mukesh Kumar.
The experienced 35-year-old, who has been India’s reliable No.3 batsman for a significant period, has encountered a decline in his performance. Since 2020, he has managed to score just a solitary century in 52 innings across 28 Tests, averaging a modest 29.69. Although he has recorded 11 half-centuries during this period, his average drops even further to 26.31 when excluding his notable scores of 90 and an unbeaten 102 in the Chittagong Test held in December 2022.
Cricket fraternity reacts on Pujara removal
Pujara finds himself dropped from the squad once again, marking the second occasion within a span of two years. The first instance took place during the home series against Sri Lanka in 2022. However, due to his exceptional performances in the county circuit, Pujara earned his place back in the Indian team for the fifth and final Test against England at Edgbaston, where he showcased resilience and managed to retain his position until now.
Gaikwad, who hails from Maharashtra and represents them in domestic cricket, was initially named as a backup for Pujara in the World Test Championship (WTC) final. However, he couldn’t join the squad due to personal reasons. As a result, Jaiswal, who represents Mumbai, was called up as a replacement. Jaiswal’s inclusion during the WTC final and now in the Test squad is a testament to his outstanding performance in the recent first-class season. He amassed an impressive 1169 runs in nine matches, including five centuries. Both Gaikwad and Jaiswal emerge as potential candidates for the crucial No.3 position in the Indian lineup.
Despite underwhelming performances in the previous World Test Championship (WTC) cycle, Virat Kohli retains his place in the squad. On the other hand, Ajinkya Rahane makes a comeback as the vice-captain of the team, following an impressive display in the WTC final against Australia at The Oval. It is worth noting that Rahane had faced exclusion from the home Test series against Sri Lanka last year, making his selection for the WTC final a result of injuries to regular players rather than a guaranteed spot.
In a well-deserved move, Mohammed Shami has been given a rest from both the Test and ODI squads. He had recently completed back-to-back assignments, participating in 17 matches during the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the World Test Championship (WTC) final. Meanwhile, Umesh Yadav has been dropped from the squad following his inconsistent performance in the WTC final. This development has presented an opportunity for Navdeep Saini, who last played a Test match during the memorable victory at the Gabba over two years ago, to make a comeback to the team.
Mukesh Kumar, a 29-year-old cricketer hailing from Bihar, served as one of the standby players during the WTC final and has been a prominent seamer for Bengal for a considerable period. He showcased his skills by claiming 22 wickets in the 2022-2023 Ranji season, playing a crucial role in Bengal’s journey to the final. With an impressive tally of 149 wickets in 38 first-class matches, Mukesh Kumar stands as a strong contender to earn an opportunity as India aims to shape their team for the final at Lord’s in 2025.
India has shown continued trust in left-arm seamer Jaydev Unadkat, who was included in the squad as a late addition for the two-Test series against Bangladesh last year. Initially brought in as a replacement for the injured Mukesh Kumar, Unadkat seized the opportunity and earned his second Test cap after a hiatus of 12 years. In addition to his Test selection, Unadkat has also been included in the ODI squad for the series against the West Indies, with an eye on the upcoming World Cup to be hosted in India.
Ishan Kishan retains his spot as one of the wicketkeepers in the squad, while the management continues to show confidence in their first-choice option, KS Bharat. Bharat, hailing from Andhra Pradesh, had a challenging start to his career as a wicketkeeper on the spin-friendly pitches during Australia’s tour of India. However, he showcased his skills and adaptability in contrasting conditions during the tour of the United Kingdom, leaving a positive impression on the selectors and team management.
India is scheduled to play their Test matches against the West Indies in Dominica from July 12th to July 16th and in Trinidad from July 20th to July 24th.