Tuesday, Dec 26, 2023

Mukesh Kumar or Prasidh Krishna? Ashwin or Shardul Thakur? For India, bowling will pose biggest selection headaches

It will be India's first away Test without Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane since 2012, but their selection headaches revolve around their bowling pack.

IND vs SA 1st Test: Combinations for IndiaIt isn’t just about whether the five bowling option should be 3:2 (pacers vs spinners), but even if they go with a lone spinner, who will make the four-prone seam attack. (Reuters/PTI)

As usual, on the eve of another Test in a SENA country, India are facing a familiar question about their combination. With Mohammed Shami missing the series with an injury, India have a couple of decisions to make in the bowling front. It isn’t just about whether the five bowling option should be 3:2 (pacers vs spinners), but even if they go with a lone spinner, who will make the four-prone seam attack. The Indian Express takes a look…

No surprises in the batting front

This will be India’s first away Test without both Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane since 2012. With Shubman Gill at No 3 and Shreyas Iyer at No 5, it now gives the team the sort of intent that they have been seeking off-late. With Yashasvi Jaiswal accompanying skipper Rohit Sharma at the top and Virat Kohli in at No 4, India’s batting has the ingredients to ace the conditions. That they have KL Rahul – who had an outstanding tour last time – coming in at No 6 as wicketkeeper only shows India’s batting might. Add Ravindra Jadeja at No 7, you can’t ask for a more in-form, solid batting order. The conditions will test them, but unlike the previous tour, they seem to have the personnel who would keep the scoreboard moving, rather than just hold fort before an unplayable one comes their way. Or so it goes in theory; this tour will either firm India’s batting future or sow doubts again.

Ashwin vs Thakur

This is a battle that has been going on since the 2021 tour of England. It has been replayed multiple times since then, and even at Centurion it is the topic of discussion. With Jadeja missing the last tour, Ashwin played all three Tests, but picked up only three wickets, going wicketless in the final match at Cape Town. Back then, Thakur had a good outing, picking up seven wickets in an innings at Johannesburg.


Centurion, on the other hand, has always been a venue where the fast bowlers do bulk of the work. Out of 41 instances of bowlers taking a five-wicket haul in an innings here, only three have been taken by spinners. So before India lock their XI, they have to decide on a few factors, which includes the overhead conditions. There is a high chance of rain on Day 1 and moderate rain on Day 2. With grass cover expected, playing two spinners would be a luxury that India may not be willing to have. Instead, they are inclined towards playing Thakur, who may not be as solid as Ashwin with the bat, but can make notable contributions.

Who will be the third seamer?

Festive offer

Barring any last minute injury concerns, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj should start. It leaves one spot: Mukesh Kumar or Prasidh Krishna? In the absence of Mohammad Shami, it’s mighty crucial that India get their combination right. Mukesh, who made his debut in the Caribbean, is known for seam movement. At the same time, he doesn’t have the pace like the other three. He is a workhorse, who bowls the ideal red-ball length — which hits the top of off-stump. Such bowlers, who get just the enough amount of seam movement either ways have made merry in South African conditions. So there is enough temptation for India to consider him.

Prasidh, on the other hand, is totally a different variety and one that India missed last time. Since moving on from Ishant Sharma, India’s attack hasn’t looked complete without a tall fast-bowler. That Prasidh also happens to be a hit the deck bowler and can surprise the batsmen with the extra bounce makes for a compelling case for his inclusion. With pace by his side, Prasidh could well be India’s trump card with the ball, particularly if they use him in short bursts. He is not known to bowl long spells, but in bowler-friendly conditions, you seldom need one. If he gets a Test cap, it won’t come as a surprise, but given this is also Jasprit Bumrah’s first Test since July 2022, India may not be pushing him a lot. So whether they take the field with two seamers, who could be used only for short spells, is also something they have to ponder.


Centurion is Proteas’ Gabba

There is a forecast of rain, but that is always the case in Centurion. One of the fastest venues in the world, it is known to get quicker as the Test progresses. Bring in the invariable bounce, it makes it extremely hard for batsmen to get used to the conditions, unless they have played here before. Hence, South Africa enjoy a good record here, winning 22 of the 28 Tests. In the last tour, India won a Test here with KL Rahul scoring a century and Shami taking five wickets in the first innings.

First published on: 25-12-2023 at 21:57 IST
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