India’s 20-member squad for the World Test Championship final and the England series possesses enough options for each spot, but the depth in resources could also result in a few selection dilemmas for Virat Kohli’s side.
The last time India visited England for a Test tour, the series went 4-1 the hosts’ way, but they certainly have the tools to succeed this time round – a 3-1 series win at home against England earlier this year followed a dramatic 2-1 win over Australia Down Under.
Here are five selection headaches that the Indian management may have to face in England:
Ashwin, Jadeja or both?
R Ashwin and R Jadeja have played 39 Tests together, but only six of them have been away from home, with India almost always preferring one of them in a pace-dominated set-up overseas. This time, though, it’s difficult to keep one out – Jadeja’s batting has evolved substantially since the 2018 tour, and R Ashwin has been India’s standout spinner away from home since the start of 2018.
Pitches in England may not always be conducive for a two-man spin attack though: last time round, India fielded two spinners for the Lord’s Test but the move backfired, leaving India with an innings loss and Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav wicketless. This time, though, Jadeja brings more value at No.7 (he averages 50.27 with the bat since 2017), which could see both of them playing more matches together.
Does Mayank Agarwal find a place?
Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill have quickly risen to be first-choice openers, especially after their back-to-back fifty-plus stands in the Sydney Test in January. It hasn’t been smooth sailing since; in nine innings, they have not passed the 50-run mark once, with Gill struggling in particular. Is it time to bring back Mayank?
Form has deserted Mayank and he hasn’t crossed 40 in his last eight Test innings. However, Rohit’s susceptibility against early swing could also be a cause of concern – he’s played just two innings in England, managing 34 runs – even though it was way back in 2014. Gill has fizzled out after a great start, with just one fifty in his last seven innings, re-opening the debate over who India’s first two names on the teamsheet should be.
Can Siraj squeeze into India’s experienced pace attack?
Siraj proved to be the find of the Australia tour, stepping up admirably when India’s bowling attack fell piece by piece to injury. Despite spearheading the attack at such a young age, Siraj may not be a starter in England, where the experienced trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma are likely to occupy the first slots. Bumrah thrived on the last England tour (14 wickets @ 25.93), Ishant has been successful in his previous visits (43 wickets @ 33.90), while Shami’s style, too, is likely to suit overcast conditions.
Siraj, too, unleashes pace upfront (probably a few extra yards than the rest), has a deadly inswinger against right-handers, and has been particularly impressive with his accuracy with the new ball. Essentially, it could come down to youth versus experience while finalising the pace attack.
Will either Axar or Washington play?
If he was in any other Test side, Axar would have been a sure-shot selection based on current form. In India, though, his direct competition is Ravindra Jadeja, a cricketer who’s walking on the path to Test greatness. And while Axar did exceptionally well in Jadeja’s absence (27 wickets @ 10.59), his chances of making it to the playing XI remain slim, even though he brings an element of freshness into the attack, and troubled the exact batsmen who are likely to line up in England.
Washington, too, has done little wrong: in Australia, his gritty knocks down the order extended India’s tail, and while he wasn’t running through line-ups, his off-spin, too, was adequate. Eventually, this could be India’s easiest debate to solve.
Is Rahane truly indispensable?
It’s very rare that your vice-captain is under the scanner, especially after a series-defining century just months ago. However, Rahane, the batsman, is a complex issue for India – the lack of consistency has been worrying of late: in 11 innings since his Melbourne classic, he has crossed fifty only once. It’s been a regular feature of his career, with a big knock often preceded and succeeded by a stream of low scores.
Where does that leave India? At No.5, there could be other options lying in wait: Hanuma Vihari gave a fine account of his grittiness during his 161-ball Sydney blockathon, and is a realistic choice if India indeed makes the bold call of leaving out Rahane. He’s also ready in preparation, having acclimaised to English conditions with his county stint at Warwickshire. Additionally, there are KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal as alternatives in the middle order.
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