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India's selection conundrum: Who will win race for fifth bowler's slot?

Source: PTI
July 09, 2023 21:10 IST
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IMAGE: Coach Rahul Dravid has a selection headache on his hands. Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Reuters

The Indian team management will be fretting over its bowling combination with Jaydev Unadkat, Mukesh Kumar and Navdeep Saini locked in a three-way fight for the third pacer's slot in the upcoming two-Test series starting in Roseau on Wednesday.

The Windsor Park in the Dominican capital of Roseau isn't exactly one of West Indies' more popular grounds like the Sabina Park in Jamaica or the Kensingston Oval in Barbados, having hosted only five Tests, four ODIs and an equal number of T20Is.

In fact, the last of the five Test matches at this ground was held in 2017 when Pakistan won by 101 runs inside three days.

There is no latest data of any Test match here to have an idea as to how the track has behaved in recent times.

However, having won only one of the five Tests, that too against lowly Zimbabwe, Kraigg Brathwaite's team is unlikely to take a lot of confidence from the past results.

If the last Test was any indicator, Pakistan's pacers Mohammed Amir, Hasan Ali and Mohammed Abbas had picked 11 wickets between them while leg-spinner Yasir Shah alone picked up eight of the remaining nine scalps across two innings.


It is understandable that India will go in with both specialist spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja while Shardul Thakur, with his batting ability and a decent showing in the WTC final in England, will be playing alongside pace spearhead Mohammed Siraj.

Axar Patel, also an all-rounder in Ravindra Jadeja mould, can add a fourth dimension to this choice for fifth bowling option but, on most Caribbean tracks, it is advisable to have a third pacer handy.

However in the choice for the fifth bowler, a likely third pacer isn't going to be an easy one as all three bring some or the other attribute into the line-up.

IMAGE: Jaydev Unadkat is locked in a three-way tie for the fifth bowler’s spot. Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Reuters

Navdeep Saini, who is slowly getting his rhythm back, has pace and is like a workhorse who can bowl long spells without cutting down much on pace. On slower decks, a man with Saini's pace could come in handy with the old Dukes ball.

Then there is Ranji legend Unadkat, who played only his second Test, against Bangladesh, after a 12-year gap since his debut against South Africa in 2010. He is not exactly a "spring chicken", and having toiled hard for more than a decade on unresponsive Rajkot track, he has a few tricks up his sleeve.

Unadkat can bring in the awkward angle of a left-arm seamer where he can both push it across the right-handers and is also able to do enough so that the ball can hold its line at times.

Last but not least is Mukesh, the 29-year-old from Bengal, who has improved by leaps and bounds in these last three domestic seasons.

He is probably the most potent new-ball bowler among the three in contention with his ability to bowl both inswing and outswing and also get some appreciable movement off the surface.

Although his pace hovers in the early 130 kmph, one needs to see what he does with the old ball in his third or fourth spell when his pace will drop by a few kilometres.

It will be a choice that skipper Rohit Sharma has to make based on two aspect -- current form in the nets and how the conditions are one day prior to the start of the Test match.

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