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In 2021, will India play England with five bowlers or six batsmen? The Root Of Virat Kohli’s Concerns Is His Playing XI For The First Test

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India is in a pickle as they prepare to face England in a four-match Test series starting on Friday at home, following their historic Test series victory in Australia. Fortunately for captain Virat Kohli, who is returning from paternity leave, it’s a dilemma with a lot of solutions – a rare occurrence in Indian cricket.

India is in a pickle as they prepare to face England in a four-match Test series starting on Friday at home, following their historic Test series victory in Australia. Fortunately for captain Virat Kohli, who is returning from paternity leave, it’s a dilemma with a lot of solutions – a rare occurrence in Indian cricket.

The captain, who only played one Test in Australia before returning home, is expected to bat at number four, where he has scored more runs than anyone except Sachin Tendulkar in Indian cricket.

Kohli and the management will choose from three opening batsmen – Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, and Mayank Agarwal – since the fourth, KL Rahul, may not be fit for the first Test. Based on the former’s prolific record as an opener at home and the latter’s coming-of-age results Down Under, Sharma and Gill are likely to pick themselves. Sharma and Gill are both natural strikers of the ball, and if they can score easily against England’s pace duo of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, the hosts will be able to bat the visitors out of the game. Agarwal, who has been a reliable performer since his debut in 2018, is in terrible shape.

It’s needless to get into a debate on who bats at number three. If you’re wondering why, it’s because you haven’t been watching Indian cricket for the past ten years. Looking past Cheteshwar Pujara defies cricketing logic as well as common sense.

Kohli enters the game at number four, where he has 5,804 runs at a 59.22 average in 104 innings. Only Tendulkar (13,492) has scored more runs for India in Tests at the same place. As a result of Kohli’s return, vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, one of the stars of the Australian triumph, drops to number five. Rahane has the most Test experience at this position, and on the sluggish, turning tracks of Chennai and Ahmedabad – each city will host two Tests – he will be the ideal foil for the spinners and the old, reverse swinging ball.

Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri will have their job cut out picking the rest of the team now that the top five has been decided.

Except for the last Test, when Agarwal replaced Hanuma Vihari at number six, India used Hanuma Vihari at number six in Australia. Vihari is out with a hamstring injury, and Agarwal, who has had a series of bad performances, is almost out of the running.

If India decides to play just four bowlers, Kohli will be tempted to choose Hardik Pandya, an extra batsman. Pandya, who played in the limited-overs leg of the Australia tour, hasn’t bowled in a Test match since 2018 due to a back injury. Pandya’s fitness to bowl is questionable, and even if he is, his medium pace will be ineffective on pitches where India would prefer a spinner who can bat.

It’s also doubtful that India will field just four bowlers, as the majority of their recent Tests have featured a five-batsman-wicketkeeper-five-bowlers lineup, which has shown positive results.

As a result, wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant will almost certainly bat at number six. At least for the time being, his match-winning effort in Brisbane and scintillating knock in Sydney have obscured his flaws behind the stumps. Over Wriddhiman Saha, Pant will be the first-choice goalkeeper.

India’s strike trio of off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who will bat at number seven, and pacers Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah are three of the five bowlers who are certain to play. Sharma is back from a lengthy injury layoff, though Bumrah will be making his Test debut in India at the age of 17.

With two slots to fill, the emphasis shifts to five players: Kuldeep Yadav, Washington Sundar, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, and Axar Patel.

Siraj will be a foregone conclusion if India choose three pacers and two spinners, which is more likely in Chennai, after his success in Australia, where he was the highest wicket-taker for India with 13 scalps in his debut match. Numbers nine, ten, and eleven will be Ishant, Siraj, and Bumrah.

Kohli will face the most challenging task in selecting Ashwin’s spin partner and filling the number eight slot.

Though off-spinner Sundar’s batting abilities are undeniable following his heroics at the Gabba, left-arm spinner Axar – a like-for-like replacement for the injured Ravindra Jadeja – is also a capable batsman. While Chinaman Yadav is the least effective batsman of the three, his experience is a plus, as Sundar has only played one Test and Axar none.

Kohli can choose Yadav over Sundar and Patel because bowling out the formidable English batting lineup of Rory Burns, Root, Ben Stokes, and Jos Buttler twice is the only way to win.

Despite his heroics with the bat and ball in Brisbane, Thakur should consider himself extremely unlucky, but he should also take comfort and pride in the fact that he is part of a once-in-a-generation Indian team that has players on the bench who can take the field and outperform the first-choice playing XI on any given day.

Team India demonstrated this in Australia and will continue to do so everywhere in the world. It’s a big issue that we, the Indian fans, have been waiting for and are willing to put up with for a long time.


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