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Should India play 3 spinners in first Test?

By HARISH KOTIAN
Last updated on: October 01, 2019 12:42 IST

Should India exploit South Africa's weakness against the turning ball, asks Harish Kotian.
Pick India's playing XI for the opening Test in Visakhapatnam.

IMAGE: Ravichandran Ashwin, right, with Ravindra Jadeja. Photograph: BCCI

World No 1 India certainly have their task cut when they take on third-ranked South Africa in a highly-anticipated three Test series, which begins in Visakhapatnam on October 2.

 

South Africa have proved to be a tough nut to crack over the years. They were beaten 0-3 in a four Test series when they toured India last in 2015-2016 when they crumbled against spin.

Before that series they secured 1-1 successive series draws, a creditable performance in Indian conditions. They blanked India 2-0 in a two Test series in 1999-2000 for their only series win in India, on either side of two series losses in 1996-1997 and 2004-2005.

Virat Kohli's side will be high on confidence following a convincing showing in the West Indies when they eased to a 2-0 series whitewash. The team was dealt a big blow when strike bowler Jasprit Bumrah was ruled out of the series because of a back stress fracture.

Bumrah's absence won't worry the hosts much, since spin is expected to play a huge role in Indian conditions.

India's spin twins Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja decimated the South Africans in 2015-2016, picking 54 of the 70 wickets to fall in the series for the visitors.

India have the option of adding some variety to the attack by bringing in chinaman spinner Kuldeep Yadav into the equation. Kuldeep has the ability to win matches on his own in helpful conditions.

They also have Hanuma Vihari's part-time off-spin to fall back on.

All eyes will be on Rohit Sharma who is all set to open the batting in the series opener and it will be interesting to see how that gamble plays out.

Rohit's dismissal for a duck when he played as an opener in the three-day warm up game between the Board President's XI and South Africa has made things interesting, especially when someone like Shubman Gill is waiting in the wings, having forced his way into the team with a mountain of runs behind him.

Rohit hasn't opened the batting much in the red ball format, even though he has enjoyed huge success as an opener in limited overs cricket. Before the warm-up game, Rohit opened the batting on three occasions for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy, scoring 30, 68 and 3.

With no other option to include Rohit in the packed batting line-up, India's selectors and team management are looking to give the Mumbai batsman another chance to resurrect his Test career.

On the other hand, Punjab's batting sensation Gill averages an impressive 69 in 15 first class games, with a tally of 1,535 runs, including four centuries and nine fifties.

He recently became the youngest Indian cricketer to hit a first class double century when he stroked an unbeaten 204 from 250 balls for India 'A' in the West Indies.

Shubman staked his claim for the opening slot with knocks of 90 from 153 balls and 92 from 137 balls in the two unofficial Tests for India 'A' against South Africa 'A' last month.

As things stand, Rohit is likely to get the first opportunity to open the batting with Mayank Agarwal.

The team management won't have problems picking the rest of the batting line-up featuring seasoned campaigners in Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara.

Veteran Wriddhiman Saha makes a comeback into the side, replacing Rishabh Pant who struggled with bat and behind the stumps in the West Indies.

India could go in with five bowlers including three spinners to exploit South Africa's weakness against spin, which could force them to drop a frontline batsman at the cost of the extra bowler.

The most likely scenario at the moment is India playing four bowlers, including two pacers and two spinners.

Who do you think should be part of India's playing XI in the opening Test in Visakhapatnam?

Should India go in with five bowlers?

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HARISH KOTIAN / Rediff.com
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