India's opening combination for the WTC final against New Zealand has possibly been finalised, with Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma the only regular opening batters in the final 15, named on Tuesday evening. Hanuma Vihari, who India have often turned to for batting insurance on overseas tours, has made the cut, but there is no place for Mayank Agarwal or KL Rahul.
Both Rishabh Pant and Wriddhiman Saha have made the squad as the wicketkeeping options. Saha last played in India's series opener against Australia in Adelaide in December, and has since become No. 2 to Pant in India's first-choice Test XI.
Meanwhile, the five pace options are Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and Umesh Yadav, the last being preferred over Shardul Thakur. Only two spin options in R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, with Washington Sundar and Axar Patel, who performed exceedingly well on the tours of Australia and in the home series against England respectively, part of the reserves.
Jadeja's inclusion is a sign of India's team management being satisfied with his red-ball progress since recovering from the finger injury he picked up in Australia, which ruled him out of the home series that followed against England. Patel, his replacement, made quite a splash by finishing his debut series with 27 wickets in three Tests at a staggering average of 10.59. Jadeja did, however, turn out for the Chennai Super Kings in IPL 2021 before it was postponed indefinitely, and showed good form as well as fitness.
Another player who could consider himself unlucky is Thakur. Drafted into the XI for the Brisbane Test as India struggled to put together an XI because of a long list of injuries, he impressed with both bat and all - contributing 67 in the first innings and picking up seven wickets for the match. Yadav, the man who has pipped him, last played during the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, where he picked up an injury that ruled him out of the rest of the tour, and has missed each of India's next six Tests since.
Meanwhile, India preferring Gill over Agarwal is perhaps a sign of continuity. Gill had a memorable start to his Test career in Australia, but his form somewhat tapered off during the home series against England, where he managed just 119 runs in seven innings at 19.83.
Agarwal, the man he pipped, lost his opening spot as soon as Rohit rejoined the Test squad in Australia, and didn't feature in each of the four home Tests against England. He is India's fourth-highest run-getter in the current WTC cycle, having made 857 runs in 20 innings at an average of 42.85, with three centuries and two half-centuries.
Squad: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (capt), Ajinkya Rahane (vice-capt), Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant (wk), Wriddhiman Saha (wk). R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav