One thing Virat Kohli seemed certain about at the end of the first Test against England is that India’s thinking in terms of team selection was sound. The skipper said they were clear about the combination they wanted to play and that there were “no regrets whatsoever”.
Now, after a 227-run defeat, it is likely that the hosts will look to make a change or two to their playing XI for the second Test in Chennai as they seek to level the four-match series.
In terms of batting, though, it will be a surprise if Kohli and Co opt for any replacement. Barring Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, the rest of the batters – Kohli, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rishabh Pant – all got runs in the first Test.
While Rohit made contributions in Australia and even got the captain’s backing at the start of the series, Rahane, who has scores of 22, 4, 37, 24, 1 and 0 in his last six innings, received high praise from Kohli after the loss to England and is unlikely to be dropped either.
“Ajinkya, along with Pujara, is our most important Test batsman and he continues to be as we believe in his abilities and he is an impact player,” said Kohli.
This brings us to the bowling department, which India would want to strengthen for the second Test. Ashwin Ravichandran, Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma are sure shots but there are two spots remaining that India would want to look at.
Firstly, as reports suggest, Shahbaz Nadeem may get the axe after a forgettable outing in the first Test. The left-arm spinner had figures of 2/167 (44 overs) and 2/66 (15 overs), bowled a total of nine no-balls in the match which is unacceptable for a spinner, and leaked runs consistently by dropping it short.
His replacement would be Axar Patel, who was set to feature in the first Test too but had to sit it out due to a last-minute knee injury. But the left-arm spinner seems set to make his Test debut in Chennai and is back to training in the nets. India will expect him to provide more control from his end and possibly bowl quicker, like Ravindra Jadeja, to get more purchase from the pitch.
Lastly, the only other change the Indian team might consider is bringing in Kuldeep Yadav as well.
After losing the toss in the first Test, India fell way behind in the contest because of their inability to bowl out England sooner than they did. While Ashwin, Bumrah and Ishant were on the money for the most part, the pressure released by Nadeem left Kohli handicapped.
But there was a fifth bowling option in the team that Kohli resisted turning towards – Washington Sundar. India bowled 236.4 overs in the match, out of which Washington bowled just 27.
Now, there’s no denying the quality and depth that Washington adds to India’s batting line-up. The left-hander scored a superb, unbeaten 85 (138) in the first innings and looked more assured at the crease than most. However, with Axar being a useful batsman as well, will India expect more from their fifth bowler in the second Test?
Kuldeep, meanwhile, hasn’t played a Test since January 2019. He was in the squad in Australia as well but the hesitancy in the team management to play him has been a talking point for a while now.
“When you are playing two off-spinners, Kuldeep more or less becomes a similar kind of spinner (bringing it into the right-handers). So, we needed variety,” said Kohli after the first Test.
The turn Kuldeep gets may be similar to that of an off-spinner but there’s more that he brings to the table. Firstly, he is one of the few world-class left-arm wrist spinners in the world and the angle with which he bowls could test the English batsmen. Secondly, one big challenge for bowlers in the first Test was to get speed off the surface and Kuldeep, being a wrist spinner, could get more zip after landing the ball.
As unfair as it may be to Washington, with Axar’s competency as a batsman and England’s strong showing with the bat in the first Test, India might want to look at roping in another wicket-taking option.
There are indications that the pitch for the second Test in Chennai will offer more turn. The question that India will need to answer is whether the combination of Ashwin, Axar and Washington can exploit the pitch the most. Or should they trust their batsmen to do the job and bring in a more attacking option with the ball in Kuldeep.