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Select Team: Should India include Kuldeep?

By HARISH KOTIAN
February 10, 2021 17:08 IST
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Kuldeep Yadav

IMAGE: What must Kuldeep Yadav do to win the trust of his captain and coach? Photograph: BCCI
 

Three Tuesdays after a sensational series win in Australia, India were sent crashing back to earth by an in-form England team that produced a clinical showing with both bat and ball for a thumping 227 run victory in the first Test in Chennai.

Unlike in Australia, India were at near-full strength in the Chennai Test, but comprehensively outplayed by the visitors, with Captain Joe Root leading the way with a match-defining innings of 218.

There were several factors that contributed to India's poor showing in the series opener and one of them being the team selection.

Even before the Test started, many felt the selection of India's playing XI was flawed.

Kuldeep Yadav continued to be benched as left-arm spinner Axar Patel was called up for his Test debut in Chennai. However, Axar sustained an injury during a training session on the eve of the match and was ruled out of the Test.

Despite that, Kuldeep still did not find a place in the team as India brought reserve spinner Shahbaz Nadeem into the playing XI.

Kuldeep continues to be sidelined. He had warmed the benches during the entire tour of Australia despite India being forced to call up several reserve players because of injuries.

It is not clear whether the team management is unhappy with his form in the nets or if he is being punished for some non-cricketing reason.

Nadeem struggled to make an impact, picking four wickets in the Test while conceding 233 runs in 59 overs, at nearly four per over.

He and Washington Sundar were unable to create any pressure during England's first innings, something Vaptain Virat Kohli acknowledged at the end of the match.

'If you talk about fast bowlers and Ashwin, they bowled consistently in good areas. The three of them. But I think if Washy (Washington Sundar) and Shahbaz (Nadeem) would have bowled those economical spells, the pressure created would have been more. The situation would have been different. The opposition would have scored 80-90 runs less,' the Indian skipper said.

It will be interesting to see if India turn to Kuldeep for the second Test in Chennai, starting on Saturday, or continue with their strange tactics of freezing him out.

The selection of Ishant Sharma ahead of the in-form Mohammed Siraj, India's hero with the ball in Australia, also raised a few eyebrows as the veteran pacer looked quite rusty in the first innings.

Siraj was brilliant with the ball in Australia and took a five-wicket haul in the second innings of the series-deciding Gabba Test, but he found no favours with Kohli.

Ishant, back after a long injury lay-off, started off rustily, but kept improving as the match progressed. But as Siraj showed in Australia when the chips are down he is one to come up with the goods.

It is unlikely that Siraj could break into the team at least for the next Test with India likely to continue with two pacers on a pitch expected to be on the slower side.

The toss played a major role. England made the most of winning the toss on a flat wicket at the M A Chidambaram stadium, which had nothing in it for the bowlers at least for the first two days as England raked up a huge 578 in their first innings.

Wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant is yet to convince with the gloves though he has been brilliant with the bat in recent games.

He kind of set the tone when he dropped a catch off Jasprit Bumrah's first ball in his first Test in India. Rory Burns tried to glance the ball fine off his pads, but Pant, diving to his right, put down the catch. The England opener went to score 33 and put on 63-run opening stand with Dom Sibley.

Pant, who also missed a stumping, looks shaky against the spinners but his fine showing with the bat should make him an automatic pick for the second Test.

India are unlikely to make any changes in the batting line-up even though they came up second best.

Rohit Sharma failed twice, even as his young opening partner Shubman Gill got off to good starts in both innings -- 29 and 50 -- but failed to make them count.

The normally-reliable Cheteshwar Pujara was unable to convert his first innings half-century (73) into a big knock, while the early dismissals of Virat Kohli (11) and Ajinkya Rahane (1) in the first innings hurt India big time.

It was only due to Pant (91) and Sundar (85) that India could restrict England's first innings lead to 241 runs.

For India to challenge England in the next three games, the senior club of Kohli, Rohit, Rahane and Pujara will have to make major contributions with the bat.

By serving out a docile, slow, pitch, the Chennai curator V Ramesh Kumar ]denied India the much-needed home advantage against a strong England team, which has now won six consecutive Tests away from home.

It was similar to playing on a road for the first two days, remarked Ishant, as England not only tired India's bowlers with a huge score but also drained them out mentally by keeping them on the field for more than six sessions in a row.

Somehow strangely, India seem to be faring under Rahane's captaincy. Kohli led India in the first Test against Australia in Adelaide where they fell for their lowest Test score -- 36.

Under Rahane's captaincy a juvenated Indian team bounced back strongly in the remaining three Tests to claim an unlikely series win, despite being depleted by injuries all through.

And once against England in the first Test, the team has failed to perform to expectations under Kohli's leadership.

As India seek to make a comeback in the series, Kohli along with Coach Ravi Shastri will do well to get their team selection right for the second Test.

Kuldeep must be included in the playing XI even though if it means that they have to drop Sundar, who made a good contribution with the bat, but struggled to make his mark as the third spinner.

What changes do you think India should make for the second Test against England starting on Saturday?

Should they include Kuldeep? Should they bring back Siraj?

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HARISH KOTIAN / Rediff.com
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