Leave it to Virat Kohli to surprise you with the playing XI even after naming 13 on the day before a Test match.
While not many would be surprised to see his decision to play a four-pronged pace attack, Kohli announced at the toss (which he lost and was asked to bowl first) that India were going with Umesh Yadav in the XI ahead of both Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravindra Jadeja while Hanuma Vihari replaced Rohit Sharma.
Kohli, for the second time in 2018, went with no specialist spinner in the XI in an overseas Test. It was the same during India’s famous win in Johannesburg on a similarly fast and bouncy pitch.
It was the selection of Umesh over Bhuvneshwar that raised eyebrows. Michael Clarke, for one, remarked in the studio that Bhuvneshwar, if selected, would have been the No 1 bowler from either side.
Umesh, it must be noted, picked up a five-wicket haul in India’s last Test in the city (the old WACA stadium).
In a survey published by Scroll on Thursday, after India announced a 13-member squad, Umesh received the least number of votes. While nine players who were available from the Adelaide Test got the most number of votes, obviously, the fight for the remaining two spots was down to four players.
Ravindra Jadeja - 58%
Hanuma Vihari - 53%
Bhuvneshwar Kumar - 57%
Umesh Yadav - 19%
Umesh bowled the most number of overs in the solitary warm-up match apart from the main India seamers while Bhuvneshwar did not get a chance to bowl. That perhaps was the first indication that he was ahead in the pecking order for the Test series.
India then took a 1-0 in the four-Test series after a tense, 31-run win in Adelaide earlier this week – their first victory in Australia in a decade.
But the visitors, who are searching for their first series win in Australia, suffered a setback when Ashwin and the experienced Sharma were declared unavailable for the second Test in Perth, starting Friday.
Ashwin is receiving treatment for a left-sided abdominal strain, while Sharma jarred his back while fielding in Adelaide, the Board of Control for Cricket in India said.
Also missing, as expected, was exciting young opener Prithvi Shaw, who suffering ligament damage in a warm-up match ahead of the Adelaide Test. The BCCI said Shaw, 19, was “recovering well” but was still undergoing treatment.
However, Kohli was bullish about India’s prospects in the inaugural Test at the new Perth Stadium, which has replaced the city’s venerable WACA Ground as its premier cricket venue.
“We are definitely confident of the percentage of chances we have and we want to build on that,” said Kohli at a pre-match press conference before the injury problems were announced.
“Obviously Australia is going to be a strong team in their home conditions and on a wicket like Perth, which probably offers you more than most other pitches in Australia. But we have an equal chance.”
Ashwin took six wickets in the first Test, while Sharma hit scores of 37 and one. They were the notable absences in India’s initial 13-man squad.
All-rounder Hanuma Vihari was largely expected to slot in for Sharma, with the final spot a toss-up between pacemen Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav or Ravindra Jadeja, who has taken 185 Test wickets with his left-arm spin and also averages 32.44 with the bat.
The one obvious downside to the selection of Umesh over Bhuvneshwar is the lengthening of India’s lower order. Shami, Bumrah and Ishant are not known for their batting prowess and Bhuvneshwar would have been a valuable addition in that regard, replacing Ashwin’s ability with the bat.
The other problem might be heat and fatigue. The pacemen bowled a lot at Adelaide and temperatures are expected to be high at Perth. A spinner could have helped with the workload. Can Vihari bowl as many over as Jadeja would have and can he do them as well?
The Test is the first at the new 60,000-capacity Perth Stadium, whose wicket is likely to be fast and bouncy like the old WACA, just over the Swan River.
Despite Kohli’s confidence, he cautioned his team not be complacent, noting that “we need to keep repeating good things to win series”.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav