At present, the rescheduled fifth Test of the 2021 tour of England, is the last of the scheduled Tests for India in the calendar year 2022. India will be heading into the final Test with a lead of 2-1. However, plagued by injuries and COVID cases, India’s combination has been hampered a lot, especially in the top order. India is hopeful of some good news around Rohit Sharma's availability after he contracted the virus three days ago.
With or without Rohit, what are the combinations that India have? Will they go with four pacers and one spinner? Or will they go with three pacers and two spinners? We check different possibilities for India’s playing XI ahead of the final Test:
Potential opener alongside Gill
As of now, Shubman Gill is one player confirmed to play the final Test. In any case, if Rohit is available, there is no doubt about the opening combination. But, what if Rohit isn’t available?
As soon as Rohit was contracted with the virus, India called up Mayank Agarwal. Potentially, he is the preferable opener alongside Gill in the absence of Rohit. But, the Karnataka opener hasn’t been at his usual best. Post his half-century against South Africa in difficult conditions at SuperSport Park, Centurion, he hasn't managed a 35+ score in eight innings. More to his agony, in 12 away matches, Mayank has scored close to 600 runs at an average of 25.6 as compared to 69.1 on home turf. This puts his spot in jeopardy.
Apart from him, there are three other potentials, but unproven openers. In the practice match against Leicestershire, KS Bharat opened alongside Gill in the second innings. Following his unbeaten knock of 70 in the first innings (batting at #7), Bharat scored 43 as an opener. In domestic cricket, Bharat has batted as an opener in 77 innings, scoring 2700+ runs at an average of 36.85. 63.6 percent of his runs have come as an opener in first-class cricket.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Hanuma Vihari are the other two possible options. Vihari has opened for India once in his Test career and in both the innings, it wasn’t a great outing. On the other hand, Pujara has opened the innings seven times for India, and has an average of 98.75. But, all his seven innings have come in the comfort of subcontinent pitches.
If either of them open, another spot opens up in the middle order. For example, if Vihari opens the batting, then Pujara will bat at three and Shreyas Iyer or Bharat at number five or six. The same goes if Pujara opens the innings. Vihari will bat at number five or three and one of Shreyas or Bharat will get a chance.
Ravi Ashwin or Ravindra Jadeja?
When India toured England last time in 2021, Jadeja was preferred ahead of Ashwin in all four matches. In the lone Test, there is a chance that Ashwin might be sidelined again.
In comparison between the two all-rounders in SENA countries since 2019, there isn’t much difference in the bowling department. In eight matches, Ashwin averages 30.54 and Jadeja averages 30.05 in nine matches. However, in the batting department, Jadeja is far superior to Ashwin. Jadeja has scored over 350 runs at an average of 31.8 as compared to Ashwin’s 14.3. Mainly, why would India drop ICC’s number one ranked Test all-rounder?
In any case, conditions in England play a crucial factor in teams’ decision to go with two spinners. In Birmingham, spinners have picked up a wicket every 61.3 balls in Tests since 2016, which is the second-best at a venue in England. In case India wants to go with three pacers and two spinner combination, Birmingham would be a good venue to opt for this strategy.
A competition between Siraj and Prasidh
Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah will be the leaders of the pace attack. The options now for a four-seam attack would be between Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj and Prasidh Krishna. Because of his batting exploits, Shardul could be the obvious choice.
Now, for one spot, it will be between Prasidh and Siraj. By experience alone, Siraj might be picked ahead of Prasidh. In each of the four matches played 2021, Siraj was in the XI and apart from the last innings at The Oval, Siraj had a wicket in each of six innings he bowled.
For Prasidh, the factors that can get him a cap is his height, extra bounce, and a bit more pace. In the 2022 IPL, the most notable part about Prasidh’s bowling was his extra bounce. If he can extract that at Edgbaston, he could also trouble Joe Root’s technique of scoring square of the wicket.