The 227-run loss in the first Test to England may prompt the Indian team management to make changes in the bowling line-up. But with left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja out injured due to a fractured thumb, India still have a tough task to pick the XI, especially their fourth and fifth bowlers.
On a pitch expected to be dry and slow, India may dish out four spinners, including all-rounder Washington Sundar who could play as a specialist batsman.
Left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem and off-spinner Sundar, the fourth and fifth bowlers, had copped criticism from the India captain Virat Kohli for leaking too many runs in the first Test.
While Sundar may still play because of his batting ability — he made 85 not out in the second innings and could possibly be pushed up the order, Nadeem is likely to be left out.
On Wednesday, the Indian cricket board released a video of Axar Patel bowling at the nets. The left-arm spinner was expected to be a direct replacement in the first Test for Jadeja as he could also bat besides bowling left-arm spin. But he had to miss out due to knee injury.
Axar’s inclusion will provide India’s bowling some variety, something the team wanted in the first place as Kohli pointed out while explaining the reasoning in calling up Nadeem from the reserves ahead of Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav who is in the squad for the first two Tests. Nadeem could take the ball away from right-handed batsmen unlike Yadav who would bring his stock ball in like R Ashwin and Sundar.
By playing Axar with Ashwin and Sundar though, India will again be devoid of playing a wrist spinner something they have lacked in recent past. Kohli had initially backed Yadav because there were no other quality wrist spinners who could play top-level cricket for India.
India’s experiment with leg-spinners since Anil Kumble’s retirement has failed. Karn Sharma and Amit Sharma haven’t clicked. A ray of hope has arisen with Rajasthan leg-spinner Rahul Chahar, who is also in the reserves like Nadeem.
India can throw Chahar, 21, who has played just one T20 International for India, in the deep end, considering that this team management isn’t averse to playing T20 specialists in Test cricket, like they did with Sundar in Australia.
Chahar has played 17 first-class matches for Rajasthan and picked 69 wickets with seven five-wicket hauls.
The team management can therefore play Ashwin, Axar and Chahar in the spin attack. They may push Sundar up the order as batsman, probably replacing Rohit Sharma at the top, although Kohli had said ahead of the first Test that Sharma-Shubman Gill duo at the top will be tried for the entire series.
The team management may also rest Ishant Sharma, who took his 300th wicket in the first Test and play pace bowler Mohammed Siraj, who impressed on his debut tour of Australia by hitting consistent lengths.
Siraj was impressive by hitting the right spots, especially on the Brisbane wicket and bowled the most number of overs by an Indian bowler in the series — 134.1 — and was India’s highest wicket-taker with 13 scalps.