Ace off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin has been spearheading India's charge in spin bowling since his sparkling debut in 2011. But last year, Ashwin didn't feature in all four Tests India played in England as the visitors chose all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja as their lone spin option alongside four pacers.
Cut to now, and former England off-spinner Graeme Swann feels that ahead of the rescheduled fifth Test against England at Edgbaston from July 1-5, India should look to play Ashwin in the playing eleven as the pitch would suit his style of bowling.
In the only time India played against England in Edgbaston, it was in the 2018 series opener where Ashwin took 4/62 and 3/59 in both innings, especially bamboozling Sir Alastair Cook twice.
"Because this is Edgbaston, I would go to people who played at Edgbaston before. Ravichandran Ashwin has played there and done well. It's a wicket that would suit his type of bowling; it does turn. There's not great bounce in the pitch, so the extra height that he has got will help the spinner. He's got a good record here, in 2018 where he got Alastair Cook out with a pearl which he pitched in middle and leg and hit the off (stump).
"Personally, I would play Ravichandran Ashwin in every Test match India plays. Not only with what he brings to the table with his bowling, but his batting as well. But what you do with rest of bowling line-up? You are spoilt for choice as Jadeja can play as out-and-out batsman. So, I think, definitely Ashwin (for Edgbaston)," said said Swann in a virtual conference organised by Sony Sports.
While Ashwin and Jadeja constitute India's spin attack, England will be delighted by left-arm spinner Jack Leach's form, especially in picking a 10-wicket haul against New Zealand at Leeds. Swann feels that Leach can put the Indian batters to best, citing the backing of head coach Brendon McCullum, but feels that he would have to be at his confident best.
"Jack Leach just seems to be touched by the confidence that Baz McCullum has weaved around and has got 10 wickets. It's a good time to make comparison as Jack will be at his absolute best and is most confident. In the past, Jack struggled with his confidence levels against good players and getting them out. If he has managed to overcome that mental hurdle, then Jack would do well. He's a good bowler, but he does not have to be overawed by the big Indian crowd in Birmingham."
On the batting front, India are welcoming back their solid top-order batter Cheteshwar Pujara, who forced his way back into the team after amassing 720 runs in eight innings for Sussex in the early phase of County Championship, including four centuries, at a whopping average of 120.
"Definitely having Pujara play a lot of county cricket at the start of the year and do phenomenally well as he scored heaps of runs. He was phenomenal for Sussex; I think that is a massive bonus for India. Having a player who has been in England at the start of the season when the ball swings around and does a bit, scoring so heavily and used to English conditions that definitely gives him leg up the ladder."
But what Swann really hopes for is that talismanic batter Virat Kohli rediscovers his batting touch after being freed from leadership duties. Kohli, coming into cricketing action after IPL 2022, hasn't scored a century in international cricket since November 2019. In the tour game against Leicestershire, Kohli made 33 and 67.
"What I think you really got to hope for Virat Kohli comes out and bats like Joe Root is doing at the moment. Root is not the captain anymore and he is flourishing as a batsman again. I wanna see that from Virat Kohli, maybe not in this Test match, but definitely moving forward after this tour. I love watching him play, a strong Virat Kohli is what world cricket needs."
Swann signed off by saying that England's opening is a concern, especially Zak Crawley not being amongst the runs against New Zealand. "England's opening batsmen are definitely a weakness. Lees and Crawley just can't buy a run at the moment. Lees looked pretty good in Test match at Trent Bridge but not very good at Headingley.
"Crawley looks like a batter who finds batting fairly difficult at the moment. I had serious observations about Ollie Pope at number three; he's a wonderful player but I wasn't convinced and he's completely blown those out of the water and has batted brilliantly in last couple of games. But opening is definitely an area of concern for England," said Swann.