Despite a staggering lead of 190 runs, India succumbed to one of their worst home defeats of this century, losing by 28 runs to England at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium (Hyderabad) in the first Test of the five-match Test series. However, in what comes as terrible news for the Indian team ahead of the second Test, they will have to fight back in the series in Vishakapatnam without the services of both KL Rahul and Ravindra Jadeja.
Interestingly, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) have added Washington Sundar, Saurabh Kumar and Sarfaraz Khan to the Indian squad for the second Test against England. So, does that mean Sarfaraz will finally make his debut?
Combination 1: Rajat Patidar, Sarfaraz Khan Test debut
Since 2021, India have handed multiple debuts to players in three Tests, with the last being against the West Indies at Roseau when both Ishan Kishan and Yashasvi Jaiswal made their Test debut. However, the more iconic twin debuts came back in 2021 at the Gabba, when India destroyed Australia and did it with newbies Washington Sundar and T Natarajan.
So, it won’t come out of the blue if India hand Rajat Patidar and Sarfaraz Khan their Test debuts. Both provide India with an X-factor, the ability to play spin well. While Sarfaraz has the most runs for a middle-order batter (4-7) in India since 2022, with 1993 runs, Patidar ranks third with 1559 runs.
In addition, both of them are natural stroke-makers, with a strike-rate of 60 and upwards, which means that India could be looking to play a positive brand of cricket. Patidar also has the most runs for an India ‘A’ batter since 2022, with 319 runs in three matches, striking at 69.3 while still averaging 106.33.
But if India are set to reward the two for their domestic display, then the onus would be on the five Indian bowlers and the two Indian spinners - Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel - to take up more responsibility. Is that a gamble that India are ready to take?
Combination 2: Patidar debut, Washington/Saurabh replaces Jadeja
Naturally, India would want to play three spinners in their XI, even if the wicket in Vishakapatnam doesn't turn out to be a dust bowl. That is more down to how the conditions pan out in the sub-continent over five days, where three spinner strategies could come in quite handy.
If that’s the case, India would only hand out a Test debut to Patidar, who is clearly ahead in the pecking order, given that he was already an existing member of the Indian setup. If, say, IPL is the eye test for Indian selection, then Patidar already has made a case for himself, scoring his runs against spinners at a strike-rate of 176.8 while averaging over 36.
A replacement for Jadeja then might not be as straightforward. With both Saurabh Kumar and Washington Sundar in the setup, India could pick which skill they want more. While Saurabh provides India with more bowling depth, Washington’s inclusion could be more favourable to disrupt the English spinners.
If India feel that Axar, who averages 62 and 35.66, could be India’s second spinner, then it would make sense to rope in Washington, who extends the batting unit while still being handy with his off-spin. But if India are in dire need of a left-arm spinner, they need to look no further than Saurabh.
The Uttar Pradesh spinner has picked up 66 First-Class wickets, averaging 25.7 in the last two years (since 2022). Plus, he is the incumbent, given that he is the first-choice spinner in the Indian ‘A’ outfit, for whom he has picked up 32 wickets.
Combination 3: Patidar, Sarfaraz debut; Kuldeep replaces Siraj
By now, we all know about Patidar and Sarfaraz's exploits in the longest format and what they could offer to the national team. However, it is worth mentioning that neither of the two aforementioned players could really act as a full-time option for the Indian team with the ball. While Sarfaraz has bowled 28.4 overs, his returns aren’t quite mention-worthy, averaging 34, with a best of just 2/32.
In that case, India would have to pick a third spinner if the conditions are going to be typically sub-continental. If so, India could hand a recall for the left-arm unorthodox spinner, Kuldeep Yadav. It isn’t an unrealistic scenario, given how much the 29-year-old has done for the national team since returning full-time over the last two years.
Kuldeep’s variations has potent variations - regular leg-break, tossed-up leg-break and the googly. Besides, the left-arm spinner has improved leaps and bounds regarding his pace, which could be a like-for-like replacement for Jadeja. Another big factor that could tilt it in Kuldeep’s favour is that he has troubled the English batters for fun in the past.
But there’s a catch, like always: he has played just the two FC games since 2022, averaging 34.9. Will India then take a leap of faith to recall Kuldeep into the Test XI for the Vishakapatnam Test?
Combination 4: Patidar, Sarfaraz debut; Kuldeep, Washington replace Gill and Siraj
One loss in a five-match series is not the end of the world, but India have quite a few headaches that need solving. One of them is Shubman Gill’s form. After his admission of wanting to bat at No.3, Gill has had one stinker after the other. With a minimum of 20 innings since 2022 in Tests, Gill has the worst average for a top-order batter (1-3) at 26.58.
If it was just that, it would be understandable, but his consistent weakness to the incoming deliveries and the ball turning away from him has put him under the spotlight. Given that Patidar’s natural position is at No.3, India could just play the situation and make this change at the top of the order.
That would also allow Sarfaraz to debut at his preferred position of No.5 and give Shreyas Iyer his room at No.4. In that case, India would be tempted to play four spinners on the Vishakapatnam surface. Spinners have picked up 65.7% of the wickets at the venue across eight innings at the Test level.
Then, they could play both Kuldeep, a wrist spinner, and Washington, an off-spinner, alongside Axar, a left-arm spinner, and Ashwin, an off-spinner covering all bases of spin. One other factor that could influence that decision is the usage of Mohammed Siraj in the first Test in Hyderabad.
Siraj was barely effective in the entire clash, and since 2023 averages 123 in Indian conditions, with just one wicket. Even his economy rate of 3.5 means he hardly gives India the control they need with the ball. Considering these extreme factors, India could decide to make four changes.
*Cover Image: PTI*
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