CHENNAI: Sample this. In the 17 Tests India have played under the World Test Championship cycle, they have taken the field with a 7-4 combination in six Tests. It is the traditional Indian way of going about the balance, where the team ensures there are enough batsmen. It is a safety first approach, where four bowlers may not be enough to take 20 opposition wickets. It is something Virat Kohli has changed, especially in overseas conditions, before the injury to Hardik Pandya and the presence of a lethal bowling unit made him rethink.
In the first three Tests under the WTC cycle, India took the field with a 7-4 combination and won all of them, before switching to a 6-5 combination at home. The emergence of Ravindra Jadeja, the batsmen, gave Kohli the cushion to play three seamers at home as it also took care of workload management. It was a bold approach and one that caught teams off-guard. In the five Tests at home against South Africa and Bangladesh, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma put the spinners in the shadow with quality reverse-swing. They went hard and had at least one seamer fresh
However, in the next three overseas Tests played in New Zealand and Australia, on seamer-friendly conditions, India chose to go defensive again. And it came at a cost. They lost all of those, before they chose to be aggressive again. Despite missing the likes of Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah, having five bowling options meant they were able to keep the pressure on the Australian line-up and pull of a coup against all odds. That they continued with his combination even at home against England in more bowler-friendly condition was a telling difference.
“The reason we have reached the final is because of the bowlers. They have consistently taken 20 wickets to win a Test match over a period of time. So I'm very happy that our bowling line-up is very strong. No matter which wicket we play on, they are always a threat. They run in and always try and look for wickets. Even if the wicket is flat, they alter their plans and bowl accordingly,” Cheteshwar Pujara said.
As India gear up to face New Zealand in the final of the World Test Championship, the question that lingers on everyone's lips is whether India will drift away from their aggressive approach given the high stakes involved. According to information coming from Southampton, the pitch is expected to be on the dry side, meaning India are ready to play both their premier spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Jadeja at the Ageas Bowl, with three pacers Bumrah, Ishant and Shami. With rain predicted throughout the final, the combination might change, but all things point out that the five will play a Test together for the first time.
Although the two spinners have been mainstays, the two have played only three Tests together outside the sub-continent — one each in West Indies, England and Australia. But it also shows India's faith in Jadeja, who is now repeatedly making good scores in the middle-order. Though New Zealand are coming into the final on the back of a series win against England and have an in-form batting unit, they have seldom been tested against two world-class spinners operating from both ends. Moreover, the Black Caps have three left-handers in their top-order, which means Ashwin will have a huge role to play.
The need for three pacers isn't something born out of compulsion. In fact, the team management believes it will cover all the bases against a strong New Zealand side. Should the venue remain under a cloud cover and swing comes into play, Bumrah's and Ishant's ability to take the ball away from the left-hander will come in handy. While India can use their strike bowler Bumrah in short spells, they can rely on Ishant to hold one end up should the pitch flatten out. Shami can always be counted to bowl the long spells. He also brings in reverse-swing into the equation.
Strengthening the bowling unit means the onus is on batsmen to deliver the job. Should they put up a competitive total, expect the bowlers to deliver them the WTC title.