Hardik Pandya has been included in India’s 18-man squad for the first two Tests of the home series against England, starting next month. The national selectors, who met today, have also handed a call-up to left-arm spinner Axar Patel to strengthen the spin department.
The squad was finalised by the newly assembled Indian selection committee headed by former India fast bowler Chetan Sharma. Attending the meeting virtually was India captain Virat Kohli, who had returned home in December from the Australia tour to attend the birth of his first child. Also present at the meeting, which took place hours after India’s epic triumph in the Gabba Test, were the four other selectors: Sunil Joshi, Abey Kuruvilla, Debashish Mohanty and Harvinder Singh, who is in Brisbane.
Apart from Kohli, also making a return was Ishant Sharma.He was forced to miss the Test series in Australia as the selectors wanted him to regain complete match fitness despite him recovering completely by mid-November from the injury he picked up during the IPL. Ishant, who is three matches away from becoming only the second India fast bowler after Kapil Dev to play in 100 Tests, proved his match fitness while turning up for Delhi during the group stage of ongoing Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
Pandya – who lost his father last week – has played 11 Tests, the last one being the final match of the 2018 England tour. In 2019 Pandya underwent back surgery, which limited his role to primarily as a batsman. Even in the 2020 IPL, where he played for defending champions Mumbai Indians, Pandya did not bowl. Apart from a stray spell in the second ODI against Australia, Pandya only played as a specialist batsman in the series.
Rahul, who has not played in the longer format since 2019 tour of West Indies, sprained his wrist midway into the Test series in Australia. However, he is on the mend and based on his fitness status, the selectors have drafted him for the England series from the second Test.