The Indian squad is off to Durham after a three-week break and the assembled party doesn’t have a wicketkeeper, with Rishabh Pant quarantining after testing positive on July 8 and Wriddhiman Saha in self-isolation in London as training assistant Dayanand Garani’s close contact. The latter tested positive for Covid on Wednesday and has been isolating at the team hotel in London.
The BCCI, however, believes that with Pant being asymptomatic and nearing the completion of his quarantine period, at least as of now there’s no need to add players to an already bloated squad. “No,” said a top BCCI official when asked if any additional player would be sent to England.
The selection committee picked a 20-member squad for the five-Test series in England, with an eye to pandemic-induced restrictions. India is still on the United Kingdom’s red list due to the Covid-19 surge, meaning stricter travel restrictions and more elaborate virus safety protocols. Accordingly, a 20-member squad plus four standbys were picked to provide adequate backup for almost every position in case of injuries or any other emergency.
In Australia also last winter, India had to dig deep into their resources following injuries to several first-choice cricketers and backup players like Shardul Thakur, Washington Sundar and T Natarajan were drafted into the squad, and they played a major part in a memorable Test series win.
Letting their guard down
The UK has been facing the spread of the Delta variant of the virus and although the entire Indian contingent, along with the travelling family members, was administered the second jab of the Covid vaccine earlier this month in London, visiting crowded places during the three-week break ran a risk. Pant and Jasprit Bumrah were spotted at a heavily-crowded Wembley, watching a Euro 2020 match. Head coach Ravi Shastri dropped in at Wimbledon.
“Pant, who had not stayed in the team hotel during the break period, tested positive on 8th July. He is asymptomatic and currently undergoing self-isolation at the place where he reported positive. He is being closely monitored by the BCCI Medical Team and is on his way to recovery. He will be able to join the squad in Durham after returning two negative RT-PCR tests,” said the BCCI press release.
And apart from Saha, bowling coach Bharat Arun and standby opener Abhimanyu Easwaran, too, are self-isolating for 10 days in London for being throwdown specialist Garani’s close contacts. It needs to be seen if Easwaran is drafted into the main squad, for Shubman Gill is nursing a leg injury. The Punjab opener, though, hasn’t been ruled out of the series.
Asked if Easwaran will get in, a BCCI official said: “This is a call to be taken by the selectors and the team management. The BCCI doesn’t interfere in selection matters.”
The BCCI allowed the Indian squad members to leave the bubble after the World Test Championship final that ended on June 23. Now the Indian contingent is taking Lateral Flow Test “on a daily basis to mitigate any further risks”.
The Indian team left for England on June 3 and this 104-day tour is the longest the current lot have ever been to. The first Test against England in Nottingham commences on August 4, while the fifth Test in Manchester finishes on September 14. Ahead of the series, India will play a three-day warm-up game from Tuesday against a County XI.