India’s selection dilemmas: Six batsmen? Saha or Pant? One spinner or two?

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As India adjust their techniques and mindsets to prepare for their first Test in eight months, in North Sound against West Indies from August 22, the team management will be grappling with some difficult selection decisions. Here are three of them.

Who bats after Kohli?

For a change, India don’t have to debate over their top four. Prithvi Shaw’s absence makes it an easy call to open with Mayank Agarwal, who debuted with an impressive 76 and 42 in Melbourne, and KL Rahul. Cheteshwar Pujara comes into a rare series with no sword hanging over his head. Virat Kohli is a certainty at No. 4.

It is after this that calls have to be made. With Hardik Pandya not available, it is likely India will play two more batsmen. Especially if pitches in the West Indies continue to be seam-friendly, it makes sense to bolster the batting – and taking 20 wickets is not that much of an issue as witnessed in Australia. At any rate, picking two out of the three options is not an easy task, leave alone picking just one.

Whom would you pick as India’s openers?

Contender 1 – Hanuma Vihari: In a short career, Vihari has done his bit to find a place in the side, and even opened in Melbourne. He was promised that Melbourne was a stop-gap arrangement, and that he would be given a fair go in the middle order. He comes with the advantage of having been on the shadow ‘A’ tour of the West Indies, and with a century in that unofficial Test series.

Contender 2 – Rohit Sharma: Rohit doesn’t get to play much first-class cricket between his infrequent Test opportunities, but it is no surprise that the team management is often tempted to punt on his promise. Rohit’s last first-class game was in December last year, but it was the MCG Test and he scored a composed unbeaten half-century there. Since then, his competitor for the middle-order slot, the next contender, has done nothing to push him out of contention.

Contender 3 – Ajinkya Rahane: Rahane is the vice-captain of the side and as such has the public backing of captain Kohli. But he is going through a wretched run of form. It’s over two years and 17 Tests since he last scored a century. In first-class cricket since the Australia tour – Ranji Trophy and second division county – Rahane has averaged 27 with one century.

Which two middle-order batsmen would you pick?

Saha or Pant?

There is often an unwritten pact in international cricket sides that if an established performer goes out with injury, he gets his spot back when he returns. In Wriddhiman Saha‘s case, though, his one injury became three, and he has spent 18 months out of Test cricket. In his absence, Rishabh Pant has scored the only centuries for an India wicketkeeper in England and in Australia. On his return to first-class cricket, Saha has hit two fifties in the two unofficial Tests for India A on the shadow tour of the West Indies.

In a two-Test series, you don’t expect the decision made in the first Test to change unless there is something drastic. So whoever gets selected should stay for the second Test too.

What about the spinner(s)?

If India play six specialist batsmen, it leaves space for only one spinner; the three fast bowlers – Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami – select themselves. Now if only one spinner plays, it will be interesting to see how much has changed since coach Ravi Shastri called Kuldeep Yadav India’s No. 1 Test spinner away from Asia in response to the left-arm wristspinner’s five-for in Sydney. If Kohli agrees with Shastri, they could be leaving out the Man of the Series from the last time India toured the West Indies, R Ashwin, who has failed to finish India’s last two overseas tours with fitness issues.

If India do play two, there could equally be a case made for Ravindra Jadeja, who has done nothing wrong as a Test spinner, and also brings his batting to the party. If there’s a consolation for the team management taking these tough calls, it is that unlike the middle order, the choice of the spinner and the wicketkeeper is an embarrassment of riches.

Sourced from Espncricinfo

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