Former Indian cricketer, VVS Laxman believes that Test skipper Virat Kohli should opt for all-rounder Hardik Pandya in the playing eleven for the series opener against England at Rajkot which begins on Wednesday. Pandya’s selection would allow the Indian side to play three spinners with Amit Mishra joining Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in the line-up.
While Pandya’s selection in the Test side raised a few eyebrows, Laxman feels that the Baroda cricketer’s inclusion will add balance to the team considering his hard-hitting abilities with the bat.
"I think that (Pandya with new ball) can be an option and that's one of the reasons that he has been drafted into the team. With Hardik, he is bowling at more than 140 kmph now, he is now more consistent in his line and length. He can also give those 10 or 15 overs that the other fast bowlers can give. Hardik will definitely be my choice," said Laxman.
Pandya’s inclusion will open the door for leg-spinner Amit Mishra’s return to the Test side after he was overlooked for the three-Test series against New Zeland which the hosts won convincingly. The 33-year-old, however, showed his value to the side by picking up as many as 15 wickets in the five-match ODI series and Laxman feels that the Haryana leg-spinner deserves a Test spot, especially considering England’s vulnerabilities against spin.
"I like the five-bowler theory. I would love to see Amit Mishra in action for the way in which he bowled against New Zealand. He is a proven match-winner, three quality spinners can put a lot of pressure on this England batting line-up," Laxman said.
Laxman conceded however that it will be difficult to overlook someone like Ashwin who has been in stellar form in the Test format, picking up Man of the Series awards in all of India’s last four Test series’ outings against Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand.
"The way Ashwin has been bowling for last two years consistently picking up five-wicket hauls, winning matches for team, it augurs well for India," the 42-year-old said.
While lanky speedster Ishant Sharma is back in contention after missing the series against Kane Williamson’s side due to Chikungunya, Laxman wants India to persist with Mohammad Shami with reverse swing expected to be a major factor for the fast bowlers in the Test series.
"There will be reverse swing in Indian conditions. The dryness of the wicket will definitely scruff off the ball. I would start with Shami as I was really impressed with the way he bowled during the New Zealand series, so I would definitely go with Shami," he said.
As for England’s chances in the series, Laxman believes that a lot will depend on how well Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler perform for the Alastair Cook-led side.
"Ben Stokes is the 'X-Factor' that England has got. He is a match-winner both with the bat and the ball. But I would also like to see Jos Buttler play as a specialist batsman,” Laxman said. “Jonny Bairstow has done well both with bat and gloves but Buttler has got right approach to pressurise Indian spinners rather than playing a subdued game. So I think Jos Buttler can also make an impact."