Antigua: The Indian team management will be fretting on possible team combinations for the first Test against the West Indies with a difficult choice between senior pros Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane if it opts for a fifth specialist bowler.
Unless India go with a safety-first four bowler strategy which allows both Test and ODI vice-captain to figure in the scheme of things, one among the two would be cooling heels and it could be Rahane going by his wretched form in red-ball cricket. India will be returning to the longest format after a good seven and half months and the moot point of the playing XI will be whether Kohli-Ravi Shastri duo goes for an additional sixth batsman or an extra bowler for the first Test starting on Thursday.
If the Indian team’s think tank employs conservative strategy, KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal should be opening the innings but Rahul it may be recalled was dropped for the last two Test matches in Australia with Hanuma Vihari opening the innings. While Vihari didn’t score too many runs, he blunted the new ball attack which helped Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara to consolidate without much trouble. If one looks at the pattern of playing XI selections, Vihari, who batted No 3 and scored a fifty in the warm-up game against West Indies A, could once again open in the first Test if Rahul’s poor Test record during past one year is taken into account.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli are the two pillars at No 3 and 4 respectively but the problem starts after that. With Rishabh Pant expected to come in at No 6 and Ravindra Jadeja with his all-round skills bringing in the necessary balance at No 7 in the absence of an injured Hardik Pandya, Kohli may be left with an unenviable task of putting either Rahane or Rohit on the chopping block.
Rohit’s last Test knock was an unbeaten half-century and he also scored a first-innings half-ton in the practice game. While Rahane got a few runs in the second innings, his form has been on the downhill and even a county stint with Hampshire has not done anything to bolster his confidence. The only option to include both is to go for a four-bowler strategy with three pacers in Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma along with Ravichandran Ashwin or Kuldeep Yadav as the lone spinner. The extra batsman then will take Jadeja out of equation but there will always be a chance of fatigue in sultry conditions and the case of maintaining proper over-rates with three out and out fast bowlers in operation.
Skipper Kohli has always been a big advocator of playing five bowlers as the key to winning Test matches is 20 wickets. If the track is lively, Kohli perhaps wouldn’t even mind playing a fourth pacer in Umesh Yadav (along with lone spinner), who had a good game against the Windies A. However a lot will depend on the kind of track that the local curators provide at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium here. There is a perception that this Indian team can take 20 wickets with four bowlers but will Kohli take that risk in their World Test Championship opener?