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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

At Lord’s, India set to go with tried and tested formula

Shardul Thakur's injury could see the addition of Ishant or Umesh with India likely to continue with four fast bowlers

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty |
Updated: August 12, 2021 2:21:39 pm
India vs England Lord's Test, India vs England 2nd Test, Shardul Thakur injury, Shardul Thakur replacement, Stuart Broad injury, James Anderson injuryIndia's Virat Kohli walks to the nets during a practice session ahead of the 2nd cricket test between England and India at Lord's cricket ground in London, Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

The ‘template’ needs a tweak, at the home of cricket.

Shardul Thakur’s hamstring strain has ruled him out of the second Test against England at Lord’s, starting on Thursday. Weather forecast for London for the next four days is sunny and dry, with maximum temperature in the early 20s. But Ravichandran Ashwin might have to wait, for India look keen to retain a four-pronged pace attack.

In the first Test at Trent Bridge, the pace quartet of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and Thakur accounted for all 20 England wickets. Thakur was the multitasker in the pack because of his batting ability down the order. Ravindra Jadeja was the lone spin-allrounder and his half-century was a reason why India took a sizeable first innings lead. Little wonder then that despite the fifth day washout, Virat Kohli spoke about finding the right template. “Most likely it will be a template going ahead (4-1 bowling combination),” said the India captain.

Thakur’s injury is not serious and he is expected to be back for the third Test. But his absence at Lord’s calls for selection tweak. The team management trusts his batting ability, fortified by his game-turning half-century against Australia in Brisbane earlier this year. On the face of it, Ashwin, with five Test centuries and 11 fifties under his belt, should be a shoo-in if India prefer to retain the lower-order balance. Kohli, though, is thinking gung-ho – offence is the best defence.

“Good thing is that Jadeja has got runs in the first game already. So he will go into the second game confident. That already makes our batting a bit deeper. Lower-order contributed with the bat as well. Yeah, Shardul brings in more batting ability, but having said that, I think from the batsmen’s point of view we are well placed,” Kohli said at the pre-match press conference.

Maybe, there was enough of a hint that a like-for-like replacement would be the best option in English conditions. Historically, Lord’s has helped fast bowlers, a venue where men of their ilk have collected wickets at an average less than 28 over the past 10 years.

“We are very comfortable where we are placed as a batting unit and we don’t feel that we might be a batsman short if Shardul doesn’t play. We definitely will think first about how to pick up 20 wickets and not try to plug in another guy who will give us some runs with the bat,” Kohli said.

This probably leaves the door open for Ishant Sharma or Umesh Yadav, two seasoned pros but no longer an automatic pick. Ishant is back to his full fitness, but he is short of game time. The 32-year-old didn’t look sharp during the World Test Championship (WTC) final against New Zealand in June and he hasn’t played the warm-up fixture ahead of the Test series against England. It is learnt that moving forward, the team management is contemplating on using the senior fast bowler sparingly, similar to how England use James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

Ishant, however, loves the Lord’s slope and the bounce on offer. Seven years ago, his career-best, 7/74, here had secured a Test win for MS Dhoni’s India before the team surrendered to England’s fightback. If it stays dry, reverse swing might come into play, strengthening Ishant’s case to be in the eleven.

As for Umesh, he was impressive in the warm-up game, taking three wickets in 15 overs in the first innings against County Select XI. More importantly, the radar worked. In tight contests, not leaking runs would be important and it would be interesting to see the team management’s thought process as regards to picking the fourth seamer.

Sometimes, playing with four fast bowlers can make a team’s bowling attack a bit one-dimensional. At times, a bowler is under-bowled. But Kohli rotated his bowlers well in the first Test, especially in the second innings, when he gave the new ball to Siraj to take advantage of the cross-breeze.

Licence to thrill

From the purists’ point of view, Rishabh Pant’s batting approach could be a recipe for disaster in English conditions where the ball darts around all day. Low scores in the WTC final followed by Trent Bridge drew some sharp criticism. But the wicketkeeper-batsman has the backing of his skipper.

“That’s how he plays. He obviously has the capability to carry on and play a long innings in that manner. Wherever there’s a fifty-fifty situation and he has a chance to change the momentum of the game, he will take that chance,” Kohli gave his seal of approval.

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