CHENNAI: Team India have suffered a big blow ahead of the second Test starting at Lord's on Thursday with Shardul Thakur set to warm the bench with a hamstring injury. With the conditions being on the dry side and the pitch exposed to the sun over the last past couple of days, it opens the door for India to include off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin as his presence would provide balance to the XI, which has only six specialist batsmen.
India is expected to take a call on the XI only on Wednesday, with Ishant Sharma also understood to be among the mix. But what is clear is that India will stick to the five-bowler strategy and the only decision will be whether the pace-spin combination is 3-2 or 4-1. That the pitch is dry side isn't entirely a surprise as England have included Mooen Ali for the Test, who looks certain to play.
However, India is still not completely convinced whether the conditions merit playing two spinners in the XI. The last time India played a Test at Lord's they included Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav in the XI and ended up losing the Test inside four days with leg-spinner Adil Rashid not even required to bowl for England in both the innings.
With regards to Thakur's injury, it is understood that the pacer was not even able to bowl on Tuesday and has been advised rest for the second Test. With a nine-day gap between the second and third Test, India believe the rest period will help him recover. Even if not for the third Test, he can be fit for the last two Tests as his presence strengthens the lower-order and happens to be the only seamer who can be counted to make valuable contributions with the bat.
In that sense and conditions permitting, Ashwin would be more than an apt replacement. With Ravindra Jadeja being an automatic pick in the XI because of his batting prowess, the conditions in England has made it a toss-up between Thakur and Ashwin. Playing Ishant as a fourth seamer would further weaken the lower-order and given how the middle-order continues to be a cause of concern, India may not take that risk.
The weather forecast is also complicating the selection. With rain predicted on Day 4 and 5, a fourth seamer would be needed if the conditions become overcast.