London: Virat Kohli might have to seriously consider playing his best tweaker Ravichandran Ashwin instead of the injured Shardul Thakur but the Indian captain didn’t specify whether the seasoned off-spinner would get the nod ahead of a pacer in the second Test against England.
While India were in a better position to win the first Test before the heavens opened up on the final day, the first innings score of 278 was still below par as none among Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane scored runs. Not to forget that all three haven’t scored heavily in the past two years and save Rahane, who got a hundred in Melbourne, the other two batting mainstays haven’t been able to convert a lot of their half-centuries into three-figure marks.
“I don’t think that’s an area of concern. Our basic focus is not to think individually where people are but collectively how much strength they bring into the team is our focus. What’s your best and strongest batting unit that you can take on the park,” the skipper said.
As far as team combination is concerned, Shardul being ruled out with a “left hamstring injury” does tilt the lower-order batting balance, although the Mumbai seamer didn’t trouble the scorers in the only innings that he played. Ashwin, who was dropped from the playing XI in the drawn opening game in Nottingham because of Ravindra Jadeja’s superior skills with the willow, is back in the mix as Thakur seems to have done his hamstring some damage during the training session at the Lord’s on Monday.
It’s still not clear whether he picked up the injury during the first Test or not. With Thakur all but ruled out of the upcoming match starting Thursday, Kohli might have to revisit his 4-1 bowling combination which can’t be cast in stone considering the lean nature of his team’s lower-order batting. “For us, it’s about finding that perfect balance but if someone like Shardul is not available, then we definitely need to think how to pick up 20 wickets and not try to plug in another guy, who can give us some runs with the bat. I think we are very comfortable how first Test went,” Kohli gave an open-ended answer.
London has been recording a maximum temperature of 24 degrees with average temperature around 14 degrees. It would be interesting to see if England retain a green top like they did in 2018 when Indian batting collapsed twice in two days and all-rounder Chris Woakes walked away with the honours. In case, the pitch is on the drier side, there will possibly be no harm in playing both Ashwin and Jadeja, who can trouble this brittle England batting line-up with their different variations.
The poor quality of the new generation of England Test players was exposed again as skipper Joe Root had to come to his team’s rescue for the umpteenth time with a fifty in the first innings and a match-saving 21st Test hundred in the second essay. There is every possibility that Rory Burns could be replaced by Haseeb Hameed, who scored a hundred opening the innings for the Combined Counties against Indians in the tour game last month.
For Kohli, if four pacers are non-negotiable, then one among Ishant Sharma or Umesh Yadav will be straightaway replacing Thakur but the choice might not be that easy.
England are likely to miss their senior pacer Stuart Broad as he had injured his right calf muscle during a training session which possibly rules him out of the game. England added Lancashire seam bowler Saqib Mahmood in the squad as cover with ECB informing that spinner Dom Bess will be leaving the squad and returning to Yorkshire. In case the pitch offers some assistance, Moeen Ali, who has been inducted might again like to torment the Indians like he did in 2014 and ’18 series or else there is world’s fastest bowler Mark Wood, whose average speed is 90 clicks per hour.
‘For us, it’s about finding that perfect balance’
Shardul Thakur lends perfect balance to their playing XI in these conditions but India captain Virat Kohli on Wednesday indicated that the team management won’t look at batting qualities while deciding the injured Mumbai pacer’s replacement, instead the focus would be on someone who can help pick 20 wickets.
Kohli’s open-ended statement could be interpreted as favourable as well as not so favourable for veteran spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who had to sit out of the first Test with Thakur being preferred over him as a seamer all-rounder. It could mean that they have faith in Ashwin’s wicket-taking ability or it could also mean that Ishant Sharma or Umesh Yadav’s bowling will give more firepower than the few runs that Ashwin can score.
“Good thing is that Jadeja has got runs in the first Test already and he is going into the second game confident that already makes our batting deeper, the lower order contributed with bat a well,” Kohli said during the pre-match media interaction informing that Shardul has been ruled out due to a left hamstring injury.
“Yes, Shardul brings in more batting ability but having said that from the batsmen’s point of view, we are well placed because Pujara, Jinx (Rahane) and myself we didn’t score too many.”
The skipper was specific that he was not looking at batting qualities while deciding Thakur’s replacement. “Every game is an opportunity for other batters to step up as well, Rohit and KL (Rahu) played very well and we are very comfortable with how we are placed as a batting unit, and we dont feel that we will be a batsman short if Shardul doesn’t play,” he said.
Kohli again indicated that the template for the first Test is what he wants to follow in the second match as well. “For us, it’s about finding that perfect balance but if someone like Shardul is not available, then we definitely need to think how to pick up 20 wickets and not try to plug in another guy, who can give us some runs with the bat. I think we are very comfortable how first Test went,” the skipper said.