2nd Test: India may add extra spin
Before the start of the Chennai Test, the Indian team wore a completely settled look, and this was thanks largely to the lack of fitness of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, both of whom might otherwise have walked into the squad.
Now, ahead of the second Test, with the pitch at Chepauk giving a preview of things to come, there might just be a tricky decision for the Indians to make.
With Sachin Tendulkar aggravating a groin strain, one batting spot opens up, and the obvious thing to do would be to plug the gap with Yuvraj Singh, who despite having a torrid time in the Tests in Australia, was in blistering touch in the last home series.
The other question that the team is confronted with is the option of playing three spinners. The two medium pacers who played in Chennai, Sreesanth and RP Singh, could not be faulted for effort, but they were defeated by a placid pitch.
Would a third spinner have been more efficient? It’s a question no-one can answer with any degree of certainty, but certainly something the Indian team can think about ahead of the second Test, especially with Kumble suffering a niggle on the final day of the first Test and staying off the field for an extended period. For this reason, more than anything else, the think-tank might play the extra spinner, as cover for Kumble.
To play the spinner, the team can either drop one of the seamers and have Sourav Ganguly share bowling duties with the lone seamer. This means that Yuvraj comes in straight for Tendulkar.
The other, more convoluted option would be to go short on batting, and bring in Irfan Pathan and Piyush Chawla while leaving out one of the two front-line seamers. This will mean the team has a bit of insurance in batting, and also has five bowlers in the ranks. This seems unlikely, as it would mean many changes to the team, but there were suggestions that three spinners could be played.
That said, playing three spinners has never been an easy task for a captain. In the last ten years, India have played three front-line spinners only on five occasions and each time one bowler has been under-utilised.
A classic case was the Chennai Test against Australia in 2001 (when Sairaj Bahutule, Harbhajan Singh, Nilesh Kulkarni played together) where Bahutule bowled just 21 of the 82.2 overs bowled by spinners in the first innings, and a mere 9 of the 80.5 overs in the second innings.
There’s been much talk about about the inclusion of three spinners in the lead up to the second Test, but only when a final inspection of the pitch happens is India even likely to consider this option.