Skipper MS Dhoni (left) and coach Duncan Fletcher will look to strike the right balance for the Test series against England © Getty Images
India will focus on a few key areas during the two practice matches, before the start of the Test series against England. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks at the possible key areas that Indian think-tank need to look at.
On an overseas tour, you shouldn’t be found wanting for lack of practice. India were brutally exposed back in 2011 when they went into the first Test in England unprepared and undercooked. Four years on, it is heartening for the Indian supporter to know that their board has accommodated two tour games leading up to the first Test. It will give the visitors fair amount of practice, but it is imperative they use these opportunities well to zero in on the best eleven before the series kicks off.
There are a few aspects that MS Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher would focus on. The opening combination would be one issue with Gautam Gambhir coming back into the thick of things as a backup for Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay. The second issue would be the spinner’s spot. Ravindra Jadeja has played in India’s last three away Tests ahead of Ravichandran Ashwin. Lastly, India have to pick three seamers out of their crop of seven.
Gambhir and Vijay may compete for the opening slot
To begin with the openers, Gambhir’s inclusion makes it a bit tricky. Dhawan and Vijay have had mixed fortunes on the recent overseas tours. While Dhawan struggled in South Africa, he did very well in New Zealand. On the other hand, Vijay impressed with his grit in South Africa, but had a tough time against the Kiwis. They should be your first choice openers, but when an experienced player like Gambhir is picked, you normally want him in the side.
The toss-up maybe a bit difficult. Gambhir has to play at least one practice game. India may well start with him and Dhawan, as they would complement each other well. Dhawan is the attacking opener and you need him in the side with someone who can play the calming influence. Vijay too would get a look-in in these games and would mainly compete with Gambhir for a spot with Dhawan in the line-up.
Ashwin’s chance to push for Jadeja’s spot
Ashwin’s record overseas isn’t great and he was dropped after the Johannesburg Test last year in favour of Jadeja, who went onto play in both Tests in New Zealand. Apart from the six-for at Durban, Jadeja did not have a very good time. India’s practice games would be a good chance for Ashwin to show his wicket-taking ability. He needs to showcase his wares in alien conditions and that should help him get back into the side.
Fast bowling conundrum
There are too many options! Bhuvneshwar Kumar would be a certainty in these conditions. His style is perfectly suited to the English conditions and he has to be in the team. However, who are going to be the other two pace bowlers? The practice games would come in handy to take a decision on that aspect. Going by recent trends, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma are the preferred bowlers. However, if any of the other bowlers have a good outing; it may be a different case.
Mainly two other bowlers may push these bowlers in the pecking order. Ishwar Pandey also relies on subtle movements and this tour could be a perfect platform for him. He bowls a good outswinger and can pitch it up. Varun Aaron is the fastest bowler in the side and would be the main contender for Shami. It would be an interesting tussle in the tour games.
Keeping these main issues in mind, Fletcher and his backroom staff would make the notes on each player. The focus would be on these contenders ahead of the first Test. However, these matches are also important for the likes of Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Dhoni and Rohit Sharma to adjust to the conditions and get themselves into good form. This time, there can be no excuses of not being able to acclimatise to the conditions.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_45)