A conundrum of combinations for India has been the biggest problem this series. The Indian team presently has the resources and players to fit in the underperformers. However, more than selection, it is the combination that is troubling India.
After the third Test, Virat Kohli dismissed the thought of having an extra batter by saying “I have never believed that balance. Because either you can try to save a defeat or try to win the game. We have drawn games in the past with a similar number of batters in the team. So, if your top six or seven don’t do that job, that extra batter is no guarantee of bailing you out every time”.
This completely rules out the extra batter in the combination. However, there is a chance for India to go with two spinners in the side. The reason behind the possibility of two spinners option is the venue has been very supportive.
The Kennington Oval has been one of those unique venues in England that has supported the spinners more than the pacers. In fact, not only in England but across the globe, the Oval has been the best among non-Asian venues for spinners since 2015. Spinners at The Oval might not have the percentage of wickets but, in terms of average and strike rate, they are way ahead of the pacers. In Tests since 2015, spinners have bagged wickets at a strike rate of 51.2, which is the best among all non-Asian venues which have seen at least five matches in this time.
Out of the 50 wickets bagged by spinners, 35 of those have been in the second innings. The spinners have been more effective in the second innings with a strike rate of 44.4 as compared to 67.2 in the first innings.
However, the biggest notable aspect at The Oval is the spinners have been better than the pacers in terms of average and bowling strike rate. The pacers have bagged wickets at 31.8 and a strike rate of 60.2, whereas the spinners have pouched scalps at an average of 29.1 and a strike rate of 51.2. An average difference of 2.7 and a strike rate difference of 9 from pacers to spinners. The Oval is the only non-Asian venue to have a positive difference in both aspects (pace to spin).
These numbers alone are tell-tale signs for India to go with the option of two spinners. But, historically speaking, Indians have rarely done that. In each of the last three tours to England India have played a match at The Oval and have lost all three. In all the three matches (2011, 2014 & 2018), India had gone in with only one specialist spinner. As a rather surprise, in the 2018 Test, England had gone in with two specialist spinners, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid. In the 2018 match, spinners bagged 16 wickets and pacers 21. For India, Jadeja bagged seven wickets and Hanuma Vihari three.
Even with support at the venue, it still remains a question as to whether Kohli will go with the four-pacer combination he is adamant on, or if he will change the line of thought. Kohli mentioned about the workload of bowlers in the press conference after the third Test - two spinners in the side can be one of the solutions to manage the workload.