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India XI in First England Test: Saha or Pant? Siraj Over Ishant?

In what is a stark contrast to the final legs of the Australia tour, India is spoilt for choices against England. 

Updated
Cricket
4 min read
Team India during their training session in Chennai ahead of the first Test against England. 
i

The Indian cricket team’s thinktank have yet another selection headache to deal with, although this is one they’d pick more often than not over the one ahead of the Brisbane Test in Australia. In what is a stark contrast to the final legs of the Australia tour, India is spoilt for choices at home against England, and at stake for both is a place in the final of the World Test Championships at Lord’s against New Zealand.

Home conditions, the absence of the important Ravindra Jadeja and the wicket-keeper’s slot are likely to be among the most important points of discussion as India look finalise on the playing XI for the first Test.

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Will Ishant Sharma be drafted back into the team straightaway or will the inform Mohammed Siraj keep his place? Will Rishabh Pant pip Wriddhiman Saha to the keeper’s berth to provide more balance?

Rishabh Pant or Wriddhiman Saha?

On the back of his batting performance in Australia, Pant makes a very strong case for selection, however, the dropped catches behind the stumps did not go unnoticed. The more senior Wriddhiman Saha is undoubtedly one of the best behind the stumps and provides more assurance than Pant, especially in conditions where the spinners are more than likely to shoulder the majority of responsibility.

With Jadeja unavailable, playing Pant as a batsman only means India pick four bowlers to follow him and Saha in the line-up, with none of the frontline batsmen comfortable rolling their arm over.

A battery of five bowlers would mean Kohli has to pick between Saha and Pant, which also brings Axar Patel into the equation, the closest India have to a like-for-like replacement for Jadeja. India, in recent Tests, have preferred to play five bowlers in Tests, home and away.

Back after a break, Kohli, who bolsters the batting for India, has quite the task on hand and might stick with the ploy of picking Saha in home conditions against a very formidable unit in England.

Mohammed Siraj or Ishant Sharma?

Jasprit Bumrah is fit to lead the pack and will be one of the first names on the team sheet for the Chepauk Test but who will partner him? Mohammed Siraj is in good form and confident after a brilliant Australia series whereas the veteran Ishant Sharma has only just returned from injury.

Ishant’s last red-ball game was the first Test on the tour of New Zealand after which an ankle injury set him back. He returned for the IPL for the Delhi Capitals in UAE but was sidelined again due an abdominal muscle tear and since completing his rehab at the National Cricket Academy has played only 4 T20s for Delhi in the recently concluded Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.

It is highly unlikely that India will want to rush Ishant back into action after such a long layoff and Siraj might just get the nod ahead of him in the first Test, especially considering since he is likelier to be more at ease with longer spells. Siraj finished the Australia as the leading wicket-taker for India with 13 scalps to his name and led the attack ably in Brisbane too.

Bharat Arun will undoubtedly keep a close eye on both in the nets and India isn’t likely to be rushed into a decision on this.

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R Ashwin and Who?

R Ashwin, like Bumrah, picks himself for his home Test, but whom will Kohli pick on a surface that’s traditionally helpful for the spinners. Recent reports suggest that the pitch is likely to follow the trend despite the possibility of more grass on the surface than before.

Fighting it out for two spots are Washington Sundar, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav and Shardul Thakur. The all-rounder from Palghar however is the unlikeliest pick of the lot given that England are far more comfortable against pace than spin.

R Ashwin and Virat Kohli share a light moment.
R Ashwin and Virat Kohli share a light moment.
(Photo: PTI)

Sundar, like Pant in Australia, has a case for selection after the heroics at the Gabba but the lack of overall lack of red-ball cricket experience and the fact that two off-spinners offer less variation means he might just have to wait his turn.

Meanwhile, Kuldeep’s last Test was in 2019 in Sydney and Axar is new to the fold. Since the Australia tour of 2018/19, Kuldeep has fallen out of favour due to poor form but has made it amply clear that he’s preparing hard to make life difficult for the visitors. The team management however have backed him to make a difference leading up to the series.

New man Axar, who offers a fair bit of ability with the bat, and Kuldeep providing variety in the attack, it is likely that India will pick the left arm spin duo to partner Ashwin’s off-break.

Mayank Agarwal or Shubman Gill?

The senior opener has played five matches in Tests in India and in 6 innings has scored two double hundreds and a century, but was been woefully out of form in Australia.

On the other hand, Shubman Gill was one of India’s more assured batsmen against the hostile Australian bowling in the recently concluded Test series, and even played a very important role in the win at the Gabba.

It is unlikely that the team management will disturb the opening pair of Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill, barring any untoward incident.

Predicted Playing XI: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (Wk), Axar Patel, R Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj.

Squad: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Mayank Agarwal, Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul, Wriddhiman Saha, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, R Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Washington Sundar, Axar Patel.

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