CHENNAI: In an ideal world, this would have been a straightforward choice. Especially if one goes by the recent trend of the pitches in Caribbean going back to assisting pacers, and spinners playing a limited role.
The strip at Sir Viv Richards Stadium in Antigua is expected to be similar to the ones England played on earlier this year, where West Indies pacers got bite, bounce and lateral movement to make life difficult.
While such a pitch may bridge the gap between India and West Indies to an extent, Virat Kohli & Co still have a task at hand. Since the turn of the millennium, India have gone to the Caribbean and have lost a Test series only once (2002).
They haven’t lost a Test in this decade. But this time, as India kickstart their ICC Test Championship on Thursday, they will have lot to ponder on, especially in the absence of seam-bowling all-rounder Hardik Pandya.
Indications from the Caribbean are that India will mostly stick to a four-man attack, with one place for a spinner. Between Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav, India will have to choose wisely. Even though head coach Ravi Shastri had told after the tour of Australia that the chinaman will be the No 1 spinner overseas, leaving out the other two isn’t going to be a straightforward choice.
“I would go with Shastri’s choice: Kuldeep,” said former India spinner Maninder Singh. While that would make India bench two of the top-ranked Test bowlers (Jadeja No 5, Ashwin No 10), Maninder has his own reasons. “It is a simple choice. Kuldeep is a rare breed and he has to be nurtured. You can call him inexperienced. But without playing, where will he get the experience? He is at a stage where he has to play regularly. As Shastri said, he should be our first choice overseas.”
But that would mean India will have to risk leaving out bowlers who can hold one end up. Even though Jadeja hasn’t played as many overseas Tests as Ashwin last year, the left-armer, since tweaking his style, has become more effective and can be an asset even if the pitch doesn’t offer much.
While Ashwin hasn’t done anything wrong on the bowling front, his fitness issues made him miss Tests in England and Australia. “Ashwin is still a world-class spinner, but you need to look at the future. West Indies is a team you can try things against. If Kuldeep fails, you always have two experienced bowlers to fall back on,” Maninder said.
If the choice is tough in the spin department, India are in a dilemma with regards to middle-order combination too. While Rohit Sharma is a sureshot to get a spot, Ajinkya Rahane will have to vie for the one remaining spot with Hanuma Vihari. In the recently concluded A team tour of Caribbean, the Hyderabadi scored a fifty and a century in the third unofficial Test. He followed it up with an impressive 37 n.o and 64 in the practice match earlier this week.