Ajinkya Rahane (24, Mumbai; RHB, RM)
Young, hungry, agile, enthusiastic, tons of first-class runs, comfortable in a variety of batting slots, in different formats, playing different types of innings – quite possibly India’s next big batting superstar. Even by the perverse yardsticks that are commonly applied to select Test cricketers for India, no reason justifies why Rahane is not playing Test cricket right now.
Abhinav Mukund (22, Tamil Nadu; LHB, LS)
Another one who got screwed over on limited opportunities in tough conditions during the 0-4 reverse in England. His 49 at Lord’s last year was an innings of genuine long-term encouragement on a tour where such moments were rare and a few decent, new ball blunting starts in the West Indies tour preceding England offered more avenues to believe that persevering with him might have been fruitful. However, was dropped in favour of the return to action of the Gambhir/Sehwag axis, which has, in infinitely helpful conditions, delivered bugger-all since then. Still only 22 and with recent runs in New Zealand for India A and the visiting Englishmen in the now-infamous ‘no spinners’ practice game, he definitely merits another look-in at Test level.
Wriddhiman Saha (28, Bengal; RHB, WK)
Dhoni’s backup has consistently delivered on his rather limited billing ever since he started in first-class cricket and there isn’t an obvious flaw in either his keeping or batting to suggest that delivering at Test level is beyond him. Stuck it to an excellent Aussie attack for nearly two-and-a-half hours in an Adelaide Test whose headlines were usurped by the tamasha around Virat Kohli’s first Test hundred, which should’ve been his bar mitzvah into Test cricket but hasn’t been given a chance since. Has an assurance and certainty to his overall cricket that would make it a tragedy if his Test career were to be remembered by the catastrophic selection mistake that resulted in him making his Test debut as a No. 7 batsman in an innings defeat by the South Africans in Nagpur in early 2010.
Praveen Kumar (26, Uttar Pradesh; RHB, RMF)
Hard to figure out who he has ticked off to be so suddenly and resolutely ignored by the selectors. Following six wickets on Test debut at Sabina Park, PK was India’s best bowler by a country mile in the 0-4 in England last summer and has the ideal bowling style to deliver long spells in trying conditions, home and abroad. His effort and performances post-national selection purgatory have been above reproach, even as bigger stars have been dropped and re-picked without putting in a fraction of his effort. Also, given the increasing emphasis in big-time cricket on batting deep, has demonstrated his hitting ability consistently enough to suggest that he could slot in as a very handy No. 8 or No. 9. Probably the closest to being an automatic pick in this lineup.
Manoj Tiwary (27, Bengal; RHB, LS)
Famously dropped after scoring a one-day century against the West Indies, has simply not been given enough opportunities to let him build on his top-notch domestic record and frankly frightening hitting ability. Has been shunted around the Indian set-up extremely unfairly. With the Yuvrajs and Rainas hopefully confined to an extended spell outside Test cricket, maybe it’s time to finally give him a run.
R Vinay Kumar (28, Karnataka; RHB, RMF)
RVK was thrown in at the deep end in Perth and was thus, by association, part of the collective 0-4 failure in Australia. There’s a lot more to his bowling than that, of course, but it hasn’t made an impression on a selectoral roster that continues to be inexplicably obsessed with proven failures like Ishant Sharma. Did well in New Zealand for India A and has started this domestic campaign brightly at the helm of an excellent Karnataka side. His experience and, recently acquired leadership skills could be an extremely valuable asset to the Indian set-up but is another who, at 28, is fast running out of time.
Pankaj Singh (27, Rajasthan; RHB, RFM)
Is fast approaching Goel/Shivalkar levels in terms of being ignored by national selectors. On statistics alone, has a compelling case for being India’s most effective fast bowler – 16 five-fors in 66 first class games contributing to a staggering 247 wickets at 26.02, at the time of writing. Has been arguably the primary reason Rajasthan are now relevant to Ranji Trophy cricket, proving to be extremely dangerous with new ball and old. The reasons he has been sidelined so far can’t be isolated well but certainly point to playing for a traditionally unfancied state, being a bit of a late developer (now 27) or maybe, cruelly, simply not ‘looking like a star’. Ideally suited to the longer version and absolutely worth a longish run in the Test team.
Abhishek Nayar (29, Mumbai; LHB, RM)
Needs his chance to come now and needs to take it. Equally comfortable attacking or defending, has played the lone hand as frequently as he has grabbed the initiative in seven excellent seasons for Mumbai so far. Started out – and still remains useful – as a medium-pacer and is one of the few all-round domestic cricketers who you suspect would look in place at the highest level.
Bhuvaneshwar Kumar (22, Uttar Pradesh; RHB, RMF)
A certain “B Kumar” has been popping up increasingly frequently in those two-line Ranji Trophy match summaries in newspapers the last couple seasons. While still very much a work-in-progress, has been delivering with the new ball on flat decks in a way that suggests that he is very much a natural at what he does. The natural bit applies to his batting too, though the bowling load has meant he has thrown away a lot of promising batting starts due to a lack of concentration or tiredness or both. Also has a bit of flair about his cricket and comes across as a very humble guy – two qualities that certainly merit a longish rope, whenever it is given. Well worth a punt at some point in the near future.
Amit Mishra (30, Haryana; RHB, LS)
Over 30 years of age, was bludgeoned for 0/170 in his last Test at The Oval, no value-add to the team if his bowling flops. However, still carrying a Haryana attack punching above its weight, still turning in the kind of effort that supposedly ‘more gifted’ spinners don’t dare contemplate, still extremely valuable in the IPL where playing a leggie is often seen as giving the opposition 24 free-hits, still has the most unreadable googly on the domestic circuit. Can certainly do a job for India – just don’t play him in a Test in England ever again.
Akshat Reddy (21, Hyderabad; RHB, LS)
Captain of Hyderabad at 21, was one of the few occasional bright spots in a dismal final IPL campaign for the Deccan Chargers. Only a few matches into his first-class career, has already demonstrated the ability to stay big against fast bowlers, hit big runs, plan an innings well and force the pace when necessary. Wouldn’t necessarily walk into the Test team straight away but could well become a class opener across formats.
Mandeep Singh (21, Punjab; RHB, RM)
Mandy is fast becoming an irreplaceable part of Punjab’s highly-rated batting unit and his IPL displays over the last couple seasons have shown that he certainly has the skill set to make the top level. Hit a breathtaking double hundred away at Mumbai earlier this month against a bowling attack of Agarkar, Kulkarni, Powar and Chavan. Has the potential to become an excellent middle-order option.
Sandeep Sharma (19, Punjab; RHB, RM)
Punjab cricket’s bright young thing has had among the more remarkable introductions to first-class cricket in the past few years. On the back of an extremely impressive showing at the U-19 World Cup in Australia, has already grabbed 37 wickets in this season’s Ranji Trophy – including a devastating 10-for against Vidarbha – and we’re only in mid-December. Could be totally the wrong time to capitalize on his promise or, with the soon-to-visit Aussies demonstrating continued susceptibility to the moving ball, could be India’s hidden secret.
CM Gautam (26, Karnataka; RHB, WK)
One of the more left-field picks of the lot but one based on an eyebrow-raising start to this first-class season, which has featured an unbeaten hundred away to Tamil Nadu, an aggressive second-innings 70-odd against a promising Delhi attack which set up a convincing win and a demoralizing nine-and-a-half-hour, 257-run pulverization of Vidarbha. Now firmly established as first-choice as Karnataka launch a genuine tilt at this season’s Ranji Trophy.
Virat Kohli (24, Delhi)
Enough and more has been said about his attitude and the time he is taking to adapt to Test cricket, but is ambitious, aggressive and unstoppable when on form. Will – and should, on merit – feature in India’s best XI going forward.
Cheteshwar Pujara (24, Saurashtra)
Deserves an extended run based on his recent Test performances at home. Doubts persist about his ability to play quality fast bowling – he was turned over with embarrassing ease when he toured South Africa with the Test team in 2010. His next trip to South Africa with the Test team will make or break him and he should stay in and around the team until then.
Umesh Yadav (25, Vidarbha)
India’s best fast bowler right now, bar none. Wants to remain a fast bowler, come what may. That second sentence may well turn out to be more important than the first.
Pragyan Ojha (26, Hyderabad)
Is the best of a bad lot on current form. Needs helpful conditions to be effective but will do a job even in unhelpful ones. His Test career needs to take him outside the sub-continent for him to be a part of India’s best team long-term.