One of the key factors in the historic series win for India in 2018/19 was Mohammed Shami. In 4 Tests, he took 16 wickets and had picked 15 wickets in 3 Tests when India toured Australia in 2014-15. Clearly, a very important part of the team’s bowling set-up, Shami’s arm injury in the Adelaide Test was a real body blow for India, especially considering they’d be without their premier batsman Virat Kohli for the final three Tests.
Shami has reportedly been advised six weeks of rest and rehabilitation. The BCCI though are yet to communicate any details on this matter.
For Ajinkya Rahane, the already difficult task has become a little more tough as they look to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy as India will need to dig deep into their resources to replace a bowler, who between 2017 and 2019 has been the India’s most prolific pacer with 99 wickets in 25 Tests at just 22.86 apiece. Shami has picked 180 wickets in just 50 Tests at an average of 27.58 and strike rate of 49.9 at an economy rate of 3.31 in his career.
So how does India replace this stalwart, who has been extremely crucial in their efforts to pick 20 wickets in Tests.
Here’s a look at how the options stack up for Rahane and Shastri.
The right arm speedster is probably one of the fastest in the Indian set-up but inexperience and an overall expensive tour so far does not help his case for selection. The 28-year-old was included in the Test squad for the series in New Zealand but did not get a game.
In first class cricket, Saini’s played 46 games and picked 128 wickets with a strike rate of 59.9 and also came back to some sort of form in the second warm-up game against Australia A with figures of 3/19.
In the two ODIs that he played on this tour, Saini conceded more than 6 runs an over and picked only 1 wicket. He did not have a good IPL either and finished with only 6 wickets from13 games for Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Siraj, for starters, has played more cricket with India A overseas than Saini and was also very much among the wickets in both the warm-up matches India played before the Test series began.
Siraj, who’s played 38 first class games and picked 152 wickets at a strike rate of 44.9, has played against the likes of Marnus Labuschagne and finished with his career best figures of 59/8 in Bengaluru in 2018. In the IPL, Siraj did well too, finishing with 11 wickets in 9 outings for RCB.
While Saini had been expensive in most of his outings on the tour of Australia and coming off the back some bad form, Siraj’s fortunes have been a stark contrast and could very well get the nod ahead of his RCB teammate for the Boxing Day Test.
Back from injury, the all-rounder has been going through some intense net sessions ahead of the second Test and seems very likely to feature in Melbourne. Is he a replacement for Shami – in terms of the best bowler available, yes! What also is likely to help India and Jadeja is that Melbourne wicket is not expected to be the quickest, making it ideal for two spinners.
Jadeja was in fine form during the white-ball contests earlier in the tour before a hamstring injury side-lined him. With 213 wickets from 49 Tests and the ability to turn things around simply as a fielder, Jadeja, if fully fit, is more than likely to play his 50th game for India at Melbourne.
While Saini, Siraj and Jadeja are the options for India as per the squad, the net bowlers T Natarajan, Shardul Thakur and Kartik Tyagi are also available should Shastri and Rahane need their services. India also have at their disposal left arm spinner Kuldeep Yadav, who however, in recent months has not been in the best of form.
India Test squad: Virat Kohli (c) (first Test only), Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Rishabh Pant (wk), Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Siraj
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