For the second Test running, India took the gamble of leaving out their number one spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who has 413 Test wickets to his name, from the playing XI against England for the second Test that began at Lord’s on Thursday.
This means, put into bat first, India will be called upon to bowl in the fourth innings — when there could be a bit of turn in the pitch — with a solitary spinner in left-arm orthodox Ravindra Jadeja.
While Jadeja remains economical, his wicket-taking ability indicates a clear dip in recent years, possiblly because of a shoulder issue.
Since his Test debut in 2012, Jadeja has posted an impressive career haul of 221 wickets at a world-class average of 24.60 in 53 Tests.
In his last 10 appearances, though, he has captured only 23 wickets. On the current visit to England, he picked up one scalp at Southampton in the World Test Championship final against New Zealand and none at Nottingham in the first Test of the current series.
His catching and fielding are of course invaluable and he is a dependable batsman even in English conditions. In contrast, Ashwin is an average fielder and doesn’t get behind and over the ball as a batter to the extent needed in England.
With Shardul Thakur, who played in the first Test, unavailable due to injury, veteran fast-medium Ishant Sharma has replaced him. The tourists thereby have stuck to four specialist quick bowlers on a greenish pitch, caused by uncommon rainfall in Britain this summer.
In 2014, Sharma had bowled India to victory with a haul of 7/74 in the last innings at Lord’s, after Bhuvneshwar Kumar had grabbed six wickets in England’s first essay.
Irrespective of the match starting slightly late because of a drizzle and it being cloudy on Thursday, the weather is forecast to be fair for most of the five days.
(Senior cricket writer Ashis Ray is a broadcaster and author of the book ‘Cricket World Cup: The Indian Challenge’)