Former India head coach Ravi Shastri has revealed his combined Test XI, selecting players from the two ICC World Test Championship finalists, India and Australia.
As the build-up to next month's WTC final between India and Australia at The Oval intensifies, Shastri faced the unenviable task of naming his best combined XI.
Former India head coach admitted he found the task a difficult one due to the sheer amount of world-class players on both sides. But, he stuck his neck out and settled on a final XI with four India stars and seven from Australia making the cut.
The 60-year old is a long-standing supporter of Rohit Sharma and said the India captain gets the nod as skipper over Australian counterpart Pat Cummins and wins a spot as one of the two openers as a result.
"I would give the captaincy to Rohit because he's much more experienced than Pat. He's been around and he's captained sides for a long time," Shastri said in the latest episode of The ICC Review
"If Steve Smith was captain of Australia, then maybe it's a different story, but since it's Pat Cummins and Rohit Sharma, Rohit wins it. Plus, you know, as a captain, you're a certainty in the XI so he opens the batting," he added.
The decision on who would partner Rohit at the top of the order is a tough one, according to Shastri, with the likes of Australian duo David Warner and Usman Khawaja and emerging India right-hander Shubman Gill all in the mix for the crucial position.
Only England star Joe Root scored more runs than Khawaja during the 2021-23 World Test Championship cycle and Shastri said the Australian left-hander deserves to get the nod.
"It's a tight one between Usman Khawaja and Shubman Gill," Shastri admitted.
"Shubman is the rising young star and he's a terrific player, but Usman Khawaja, just by current form and the number of runs he's got over the last couple of years, I think he gets in there," he added.
The noted commentator said it was an easy decision as to who bats at No.3, No.4 and No.5, with the No.1 ranked Test batter Marnus Labuschagne and experienced duo Virat Kohli and Steve Smith the obvious choices to fill these vital spots.
"Number three is a no-brainer as Marnus (Labuschagne) has been outstanding in Test match cricket. He averages close to 60, so he gets in there straight away," Shastri said.
"Kohli at four for just what he's done over the years and Smith at five for what he's done over the years and the kind of quality they bring to the table," he added.
Shastri is a massive fan of young Australia all-rounder Cameron Green, but thinks Ravindra Jadeja earns the spot to bat at No.6 due to his ability to act as a second spinning option.
"At No.6, I get in Jadeja, because I believe he is one of the best all-rounders in the world," he noted.
"We know there's (England captain) Ben Stokes, but Ben has had problems with his fitness, so Jadeja comes in there and gives a lot of balance to that side," he added.
Australia keeper Alex Carey wins the spot as wicket-keeper and to bat at No.7 ahead of India's KS Bharat, while Shastri admitted he found it difficult to leave out India veteran Ravichandran Ashwin and opt for Nathan Lyon as the front-line spinner in his XI.
"The reason why I picked Nathan Lyon ahead of Ashwin is because of Nathan's overseas record. Not just in Australia, but outside Australia and (Lyon is) probably stronger to bowl those overs in England if needed," Shastri said.
"So he comes in with Jadeja as the second spinner, with Jadeja more the all-rounder and Lyon the spinner," he added.
The former India skipper said the decisions on the pace attack was relatively easy to make, with experienced left-armer Mitchell Starc providing the variety alongside a pair of in-form right-armers.
"(Pat) Cummins, of course, for me, he's a top-class operator and Mohammed Shami, he's like vintage and he's just getting better and better as we're seeing in this IPL. And stronger. So he comes in there," Shastri noted.
"And then it was a tough one between (Josh) Hazelwood, Starc and Cameron Green also there. But I preferred Jadeja because you get a better balance with two spinners, three fast bowlers, out and out fast bowlers and I would take Starc (to complement them) because of pace and variety being the left-armer.
It's a hard choice (to settle on final XI) because Ashwin's world-class, you've got Hazelwood world-class there and you've got (Cheteshwar) Pujara there who could be threatening. So it's not easy," he added.
Ravi Shastri combined India-Australia Test XI: Rohit Sharma (c), Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Ravindra Jadeja, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Mohammad Shami
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