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Select Team: Will India retain Siraj? Pick Kuldeep?

By HARISH KOTIAN
February 02, 2021 19:46 IST
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Mohammed Siraj

IMAGE: Mohammed Siraj bowled his heart out in Australia in absence of the lead bowlers, including a five-wicket haul in the series-decider in Brisbane. Photograph: Kelly Defina/Getty Images
 

Having outclassed Australia in their backyard and with all their key players back, India will be brimming with confidence as they go into the four Test series against England, beginning in Chennai from Friday.

India, despite missing several of their top players, got the better of Australia 2-1 in the four Test series. But they can't afford to take England lightly; Joe Root's team arrived in India after a 2-0 series sweep in Sri Lanka.

India have been strengthened by the comeback of Captain Virat Kohli who missed the last three Tests in Australia as he returned home for the birth of his first child.

Lead bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin are also back after recovering from their injuries which saw them miss the decider at the Gabba.

No doubt, India are facing a problem of plenty when it comes to selecting the playing XI for the series opener in Chennai.

The return of all-rounder Hardik Pandya will give the team additional options as play as a specialist batsman at No 6 while also doubling up as the second or third seam bowler.

Young Shubman Gill's splendid showing with the bat in Australia has helped him seal his place as the opener along with veteran Rohit Sharma, who has a terrific record in home conditions. Rohit has scored 1,325 runs in 14 Tests played in India at an average of 88, with six centuries and five fifties.

Cheteshwar Pujara underlined his importance yet again at No 3 in Australia when he played a vital role in drawing the Sydney Test and then laid the foundation for India's victory in Brisbane with some gritty batting on the final day.

Kohli will slot in at his usual No 4 position with his deputy Ajinkya Rahane to follow, in a power-packed batting line-up for the hosts.

In the lower middle order, Rishabh Pant proved in Australia that he is capable of winning matches on his own with the bat.

The young wicketkeeper-batsman single-handedly took apart the Australian bowlers on the final day with a cracking innings of 89 to steer India home in a remarkable finish in Brisbane.

Considering Pant's recent good form with the bat, it remains to be seen if India pick Pandya, who last played a Test match nearly 30 months ago.

India could prefer playing a specialist bowler instead of Pandya, who has not bowled much recently either in games or in the nets and would take time to get adjusted to the loads of Test cricket.

In the bowling, India will be bolstered by the return of Bumrah and Ashwin.

However, it will be interesting to see if India recall experienced pace bowler Ishant Sharma or retain Mohammed Siraj who bowled his heart out in Australia in absence of the lead bowlers, including a five-wicket haul in the final Test.

Ishant has not played much cricket after sustaining an injury during the IPL last year, which forced him to miss the Australia tour. He made a comeback to competitive cricket earlier this month in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 tournament, picking up five wickets from four matches.

Another difficult decision for the team management would be the choice of second spinner, having to pick between Washington Sundar and Kuldeep Yadav.

Off-spinner Sundar was preferred ahead of Kuldeep in the Brisbane Test and he repaid the faith with an impressive debut with both bat and ball, scoring a fifty and taking four wickets in the match.

But with Ashwin expected to play, India would prefer some variety in their attack in the form of left-armer chinaman Kuldeep, who can be handy on the turning wickets in Chennai.

There is also another spin option in left-arm spinner Axar Patel, who is quite similar to Ravindra Jadeja in terms of his bowling and can also be quite useful with the bat.

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HARISH KOTIAN / Rediff.com
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Indian Premier League - 2021

Indian Premier League - 2021