India vs Australia: Chahal, Samson’s omissions raise eyebrows as Men in Blue begin road to another ICC event

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It hasn’t even been 48 hours since Pat Cummins and company lifted the World Cup for a record-extending sixth time after outclassing India in the final in Ahmedabad, and we’re already shifting our attention to another meeting between these two sides.

Less than a week after the suffering yet another heartbreak in an ICC event, Team India will be hosting Australia in a five-match T20I series starting Thursday in Visakhapatnam.

Australia had already announced their squad for the series well in advance on 28 October. India, on the other hand, took their sweet time and made it official on Monday evening, less than three days before the two sides face off at the ACA-VDCA Stadium.

The difference between the two sides however, is that while the Matthew Wade-led Australian squad will have a number of World Cup winners in their midst, India have decided to rest a majority of their senior players and tasked middle-order batter Suryakumar Yadav with captaining the side.

Surya happens had recently been elevated to vice-captaincy after a consistent run and that responsibility was going to fall on him or on Ruturaj Gaikwad with all-rounder Hardik Pandya, who has been India’s unofficial T20I skipper since the conclusion of last year’s T20 World Cup, nursing an ankle injury.

The squad was expected to largely comprise players who are either viewed as T20I specialists or those on the fringes of selection after having impressed in the domestic circuit or in the Indian Premier League, and even in the recent Asian Games.

The Ajit Agarkar-led selection committee would have been reluctant to include too many players from a hectic World Cup campaign, with SKY and wicketkeeper-batter Ishan Kishan the only two individuals to have made an appearance in the tournament, the former playing seven matches including the final.

There were however, a couple of notable omissions from India’s squad for the series that will have raised many an eyebrow.

End of the road for Yuzi?

There two two major names missing from India’s squad for the Australia T20Is — leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and wicketkeeper-batter Sanju Samson.

Neither player had been included in the World Cup squad, with Chahal’s omission from the mega event being seen by some as a major snub, and the fact that neither will be taking part in the upcoming series despite having not represented India since August.

Both senior players had been offered a handful of chances this year; Samson was part of the tour of the Caribbean and the United States where he played both the ODIs as well as the T20Is. Chahal was part of that tour, but his appearances were limited to the T20I series, which India ended up losing 2-3.

Samson was also part of the tour of Ireland, where pacers Jasprit Bumrah and Prasidh Krishna had returned to action after long injury layoffs and the Men in Blue had won the three-match series 2-0. Chahal, meanwhile, had been part of the home season before the Indian Premier League, playing both T20Is and ODIs against Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

Sanju Samson struck two fours and four sixes during his 41-ball 51 in the third ODI against West Indies in Tarouba on Tuesday, 1 August. AP

Neither player, however, had set the stage on fire with their performances the way Mohammed Shami did with his five-for against New Zealand in the group match of the World Cup in Dharamsala. And given the amount of pressure that these two face and the scrutiny that their performances come under, a Shami-like performance is what they would have had to produce to both silence their critics and stay in contention for next year’s T20 World Cup.

Samson’s inclusion might have been a little trickier for the selectors given they already have three wicketkeepers in the squad — Kishan, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Jitesh Sharma. Gaikwad, who led India to a gold medal on Asian Games debut in Hangzhou a little over a month ago, has been named SKY’s deputy and is expected to lead in his stead for a couple of matches. And Jitesh stellar performances in this year’s IPL for Punjab Kings will have impressed the selectors enough to warrant him a longer run with the gloves.

Samson did have his moments with the bat this year, especially during his a 41-ball 51 in an ODI against the West Indies and his 29-ball 40 against Ireland in the second T20I. As has been the case with Samson over the years, he has been a giant in the IPL as captain of the Rajasthan Royals but simply hasn’t achieved that level of consistency when it comes to donning the blue jersey. And with the sudden abundance of wicketkeeper-batters, he was always going to find it tough to get picked.

But what of Chahal though? India have named three frontline spin options in off-spinner Washington Sundar, left-arm orthodox spinner Axar Patel and leg-spinner Ravi Bishnoi, and only one of them is a wrist spinner. The competition for slots in Chahal’s case isn’t as steep as it is for Samson, and he was in direct competition with Bishnoi for a place in this squad.

Agarkar and Co have gone with the 23-year-old, and one wonders if the powers that be have one eye on the future and have decided to move on from an individual who at one point was indispensable and part of the famous ‘Kul-Cha’ spin pairing.

Chahal had a couple of decent outings against New Zealand, including a haul of 2-1-4-2 in the Lucknow T20I. He had also been impressive in the first two matches of the T20I series against the West Indies, collecting 2/24 and 2/19 respectively, the second one with an economy under 7.

Like Samson, Chahal could not build on those performances in the remainder of the series, collecting just one more wicket in the next three outings and finishing with an average and economy of 32.60 and 9.05. For an individual fighting for his place in the Indian team, those numbers are disastrous.

Chahal had been regaining some of that form with in the domestic circuits, collecting nine wickets in his two appearances for Kent in the County Championship as well as in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, where the Haryana bowler collected 11 wickets at 12.09 in seven outings. The numbers, however, weren’t extraordinary enough to impress the selectors though.

Chahal reacted to the snub with a cryptic post on X, formerly known as Twitter, containing nothing but a smiling emoji. He had posted something similar after being overlooked for the World Cup squad.

Like Kane Williamson, who has now made it a habit to react to heartbreaks with a smile on his face, the leg-spinner has little option but to carry on and take the snub on the chin. His chances of making it to boarding the flight to the Caribbean next year look tough at the moment. But with a series of consistent performances over the next few months and making the most of whatever opportunities land his way, he could make it a reality and bury this disappointment for good.

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