India vs West Indies 2016: What should Team India's combination be?
India had just returned from Australia after a 2 - 0 loss where they won a number of hearts, but not a single match. They did unexpectedly return with a new captain in the form of Virat Kohli after MS Dhoni’s sudden retirement in the middle of the series and the team was embarking upon a new era. Before India’s next assignment, a one-off Test against Bangaldesh in June 2015, Kohli was stamping his authority as captain. He publicly stated a desire to play 5 specialist bowlers and 6 batsmen, a decision that turned a numbers of heads, especially since he had decided to do so in subcontinent conditions.
"I would want someone like R Ashwin, who is averaging 40 with the bat in Test matches - you really can't ask for more from an allrounder - and someone like Harbhajan Singh to step up with the bat, and [Wriddhiman] Saha too. If those three start clicking, you literally have eight batsmen, and you can't really ask for more as a captain. It's basically up to the first six to take more responsibility and we are confident of doing that.” Kohli had said at that stage.
That was largely the way they were set up over the course of the next few matches, with the wicket-keeper - Wriddhiman Saha or Naman Ojha at #6, bowling all rounders at #7 and #8 and 3 specialist bowlers to follow. The last couple of Tests against South Africa, which were largely dull one-sided affairs saw Kohli opt for 7 specialist batsmen and just 4 bowlers. India ran out winners comprehensively in the two games, making a case for India to go with 7 batsmen instead.
However, it is worth noting that in those Test matches against South Africa, the visitors were all over the place and couldn’t deal with the spin whatsoever, crumbling and putting up a meak fight, almost rolling over, letting India win easily.
Hence the question arises: Do India go with 6 batsmen and 5 bowlers or 7 batsmen and 4 bowlers against the West Indies?
West Indies pitches: The tracks in the West Indies are generally rather slow, with almost no assistance for the spinners on the first couple of days of the Test match, before they have an opportunity to come into their own in the last couple of days. So the question arises as to how many spinners India will play? 3 in the form of Jadeja, Mishra and Ashwin or two with either Mishra or Jadeja facing the ax. The form Ravindra Jadeja showed in the last couple of Tests against South Africa was exceptional, so giving him the ax doesn’t seem like a probable option. Similarly, Amit Mishra was spectacular in the first warm-up game and another good showing in the second game could help him cement his spot. Hence, it might be tough for Stuart Binny to force himself into the squad.
Let’s break it down into questions and analyse what the combination should be.
The batsmen: Shikhar Dhawan or KL Rahul?
Shikhar Dhawan has been backed vehemently as an opener, despite many failures at the top. KL Rahul has shined in his few matches he has played in Test cricket, however he might be kept in the reserves as a possible back-up if Shikhar Dhawan fails. Shikhar Dhawan will most likely join Murali Vijay at the top.
Rohit Sharma or Chesteshwar Pujara?
Rohit Sharma is a monumental run-getter in the limited overs format of the game but has still not shined in Test cricket, probably not doing enough to justify a place in the starting line-up. Cheteshwar Pujara will be absolutely key at #3 and might be India’s best batsman. Rohit Sharma could make a case for himself at #6, however it would depend on how the bowlers fare in the first couple of games.
Taking this into consideration, it is unlikely that Kohli will opt to go for more than 6 specialised batsmen in the form of Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Wriddhiman Saha.
In the first couple of Tests, if everything goes according to plan, India should be able to stick to having 6 specialised batsmen without thinking of adding another one to their ranks.
"I would like to have players who can win us games in the bowling unit” – Kohli
The bowlers: Kohli will be thrilled by the batting form shown by Ravichandran Ashwin in Test cricket, and his climb to the top of the Test all rounders ranking has been exceptional. He has 2 100s and 6 50s in Test cricket to his name and can be a very useful batsman at #7.
Ravindra Jadeja is one who will have to look at improving his performances with the bat. One of the most interesting stats in his career is that he has three first-class triple centuries to his name, a simply astounding fact. He will have to click with both the bat and the ball from the very first game, with Stuart Binny and possibly, Bhuvneshwar Kumar waiting in the wings.
Amit Mishra has fought hard to get into the reckoning in the Test team. While his primary skills are with the ball, he is certainly no muck with the bat with a batting average of 21.75 and 3 half-centuries to his name.
The trio form a formidable lower order and Kohli will be hoping they can chip in with useful contributions with the bat. This gives the opportunity to two seamers in the form of Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami to constantly plug away at the batsmen and look for the outside edges.
With this taken into account, India can easily bat down to #9 and also affords them the opportunity to have an extra option in bowling. The bowlers will have to be patient in the West Indies and an extra man in the bowling department will certainly help to win games. It is hard imagining India going with any other combination than 6 batsmen - 5 bowlers to start the Test series.