From The Press Box: India Start Series As Underdogs
We review the Indian team as they start the five-match Test series in England.
Following all the crash, bang, wallop of white-ball stuff, it is time for real business for India in their ongoing tour of England. For Virat Kohli and boys, the magnitude of a five-Test series in this part of the world is huge. Perhaps, their most important assignment for the country in white clothings. And as we shift our focus towards the Edgbaston fixture, the vulnerability in the Indian camp is more and more visible now.
To begin with, the Indian selectors have picked an 18-member squad for the first three matches of the series. Seven specialist batsmen, two wicketkeepers, a genuine pace bowling all-rounder, three quality spinners and five pace bowlers — Kohli must be spoilt for choices, right?
Well, perhaps but it is not the full-strength Indian Test squad, especially when it comes to the bowling department. Due to injuries of key players like Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, the think-tank is now forced to commence the series with a second-choice seam attack, which is most likely to be led by Ishant Sharma and will be assisted by an inconsistent Umesh Yadav and a rusty Mohammed Shami.
During their last away Test series in South Africa, bowling turned out to be India’s most positive aspect. Led by some fantastic performances by the likes of debutant Jasprit and the experienced duo of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami, Kohli’s team picked 60 wickets in six innings across the three-Test series.
But as we are building up for the start of the Edgbaston Test, things are looking much more different in the Indian camp. In the absence of both Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah, who would have been more than handy on that damp Edgbaston track, the Indian seam attack is looking a bit undercooked.
Though Ishant has shown a decent form of late during his county stint for Sussex, his partner in crime Shami, who was India’s leading wicket-taker in South Africa has had a torrid time both on off the field since that tour. Mainly due to personal issues and because of an unfortunate road accident, the 27-year old had an average outing in the IPL. Later he missed the Afghanistan Test because of fitness concerns and lack of form and been picked for the England-bound squad only after clearing the mandatory Yo-Yo Test.
So, for obvious reasons, coming into this tour Shami hasn’t had enough match time in the middle.
Umesh, on the other hand, is a rhythm bowler. On his day, the Vidarbha pacer is capable of run through a batting line-up. But when he is not in rhythm, Umesh can be wayward, bowls both sides of the wicket and leak a lot of runs. A fielding captain’s nightmare.
As a backup seamer, there is Hardik Pandya but Kohli certainly cannot expect him to be a huge factor with the ball in hand.
Nevertheless, to plug this hole in the pace bowling, ideally, India would have wanted to go with a spin-heavy attack and play both Ravichandran Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav. But the recent showers in Birmingham has more or less removed that option from the equation. With the expected moisture on the pitch, it seems Kohli is not likely to take the dual spin gamble.
Now let’s focus in the batting and there are a few areas of concern in the top three.
With opener Shikhar Dhawan getting a pair in the practice game and No. 3 Cheteshwar Pujara is terribly out of form, the team management needs to take a few hard calls.
However, it seems Dhawan might retain his place as the team management backs him to do the job. Also, the think-tank feels a left-right combination at the top will not allow England’s new-ball pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad to settle down easily. There is also a high chance of Pujara making way for KL Rahul at No.3. Well, it will be harsh on the Saurashtra batsman but India have to accommodate Rahul in the XI because of his recent form.
Nevertheless, in this series, all eyes will be on Kohli. He is coming into this series with Test batting average of 13 in England. Hence, the Indian skipper would be desperate to make an impression with bat this time. Also, along with Kohli India need experiences pros like Ajinkya Rahane and Murali Vijay to come good. Even for wicketkeeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik, who is Wriddhiman Saha’s replacement on this tour and was a part of the Indian team in the 2007 tour when they last won a Test series in England, this could be a make or break series.
So, the vulnerability in the Indian camp is out in the open. There is no secret about it. And they are starting the series at Edgbaston, a venue where India are yet to win a Test match.
Hence, under such circumstances, there doubt that India start the series as underdogs.