KL Rahul is all set to open the batting with Murali Vijay in the second Test here after India captain Virat Kohli made it clear that he will stick to combinations that are in the best interest of the team.
“We had it pretty clear in our minds that KL is our No.1 choice along with Vijay. And when he is fit at any stage he comes back into the side, we are going to start with him,” said Kohli ahead of the second Test.
“We were waiting for him to recover as soon as possible and in the meantime, Gautam got the chances and played really well in different situations. But that’s how team combinations go. If you want to play with the combination that you think has the best balance, we want to go with that,” he said.
With England setting the tone of the series by almost crossing the line in Rajkot, India need to muster all their resources to ensure they put up the best team on a pitch that is likely to assist turn. And as much as India’s spinners need to ramp up their bowling effort, it would be of no use if batsmen don’t score enough against spin.
The inclusion of Rahul, who has scored a hundred in each of the three away series against Australia, Sri Lanka and West Indies, indicates India’s urgency to address that situation at the top.
But it’s not just about the top order. India’s overall application against spin didn’t match up to that of England’s. With spinners bowling bulk of the overs in India, they are bound to take more wickets.
Taking the 2012 rubber against England into account, India have played five home series before this. And barring last month’s series against New Zealand where left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner and pacer Trent Boult took 10 wickets apiece, spinners topped the visitors’ bowling charts in every other tour — 20 wickets for Graeme Swann in 2012, Australia’s Nathan Lyon took 15 in 2014, Shane Shillingford had 11 wickets in 2013 and South Africa’s Imran Tahir finished with 14 in 2015.
The wickets won’t hurt much only when the spinners’ average isn’t allowed to improve. Rajkot showed India have a problem there.
In the first Test, England managed three centuries in the first innings despite India’s spinners getting seven of their batsmen. The remaining three wickets — centurions Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes — were taken by pacers.
India, considered to have the best batsmen in these conditions, lost eight wickets to spinners but could only produce two centuries in the first innings. That underlines the contrast in batting approach of both teams towards spin.
Given the state of the pitch here, India should stick to the three spinners and two pacers combination.
While England might want to consider the possibility of bringing James Anderson in place of Chris Woakes who has a small bowling niggle, they otherwise look sorted to take on India with their batting depth and bowling variety.
India’s aim should be to not let that overwhelm them.