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The whites and the navy blue caps make way while the ball colour switches from white to red AFP & Getty Images (File Photo)

The blue jerseys are ironed and folded in the wardrobe. MS Dhoni is off to another break. The whites and the navy blue caps make way while the ball colour switches from white to red. It s Virat Kohli s Team India now, up for one of its toughest assignments. Amidst the uncertain scenario in Indian cricket where on display is a tug-of-war between BCCI and the Lodha Panel, the English side is on shores eyeing a repeat of 2012-13. India are formidable at home but in recent history, England are the only side who have tested their supremacy in their backyard. England had beaten India in their own game of spin to take the series 2-1. In fact India have lost three consecutive series against England. Full Cricket Scorecard: India vs England 1st Test at Rajkot

In 2011, injury woes and dearth of innovation resulted in a 0-4 whitewash of MS Dhoni s men and that led to India losing their No.1 ranking to England. In 2012-13, Dhoni s men were embarrassed 1-2 at home and in 2014, India gave away the advantage of a 1-0 lead as they went down 1-3. It is bowlers, who win you Tests and Indian think-tank must get their combination right. Right? You never know what is right until your plan is executed successfully. Test debuts are on cards as India sweat it out in the nets ahead of the Rajkot Test.

The wicket looks flat and brown, a surface where batsmen are likely to make merry. Indian coach Anil Kumble was non-committal about the playing XI.

“Everyone is available for selection. With Hardik being part of the squad, we have more options. This is the first Test in Rajkot, it’s a new stadium, we have played one-day and T20 cricket here, but in a Test, we don’t know how the wicket is going to be. The looks of it, it looks a good surface. We still have a couple of days, so we will look at all the combinations.”

According to sources, there may be a toss-up between Hardik Pandya and Karun Nair. Either of them could win a Test cap as Rajkot prepares for its Test debut. The Indian camp is plagued with injuries with KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Rohit Sharma missing out. They do have adequate reinforcements but knowing which artillery to replace with which is the key here.

Let us have a look at India s bowling options and how they have fared over in the last two years.3

Bowlers M W Ave BB SR Econ R 5WI
Ravichandran Ashwin 18 113 20.15 7-59 40.3 2.99 12
Ravindra Jadeja 8 40 15.82 5-21 47.1 2.01 3
Mohammed Shami 10 34 31.29 5-112 52.0 3.61 1
Ishant Sharma 14 31 36.51 5-54 71.2 3.07 1
Amit Mishra 7 28 20.64 4-43 41.1 3.01 0
Umesh Yadav 12 28 40.85 4-41 68.2 3.59 0

Adding to this, they have Pandya, who has played 16 First-Class games and claimed 22 wickets at 33.72.

What should be India s ideal bowling combination?

Couple of things are to be noted here. Rajkot is expected to be a bating paradise and England may not have many batting stars but they bat deep. Someone like Stuart Broad or Gareth Batty may walk out at No.11. Broad, who has a Test ton, has played many memorable knocks for England and Batty is a bowling all-rounder, who scored a hundred as recent as this County Championship.

Kohli s preference for five-bowler theory should be the way ahead. In conditions like these, five bowlers is the go ahead as you are eyeing 20 wickets in conditions suited to the willow-wielders.

Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammed Shami are sure picks. Ishant Sharma till not long back was the leader of India s pace pack. He is fit and ideally should find a place ahead of Umesh Yadav, who has the extra advantage of express pace.

Nair can definitely fill in the void of Rohit in the middle-order but do India need to further boost their batting? The five specialist batsmen should do the job and not to forget India have the likes of Wriddhiman Saha, Ashwin and Jadeja to further boost the batting.

Pandya can definitely play as the fifth bowler. He can bowl consistently in the 140s and can provide enough resistance with the bat lower down the order. But if he has to play then it means either Ishant or Amit Mishra will have to sit out. At this moment, this is a risk not worth taking. India s perennial strength at home is their spin armoury and it makes sense to strengthen that and with a possibility of reverse swing on cards, two frontline pacers should play.

Also, taking Shami s history of breakdowns and brittle fitness into consideration, India should not risk any possibility of being handicapped in this department if any uncalled-for incident occurs.

Mishra found himself warming the benches in the three-Test series against New Zealand. He has been exceptional since his comeback in Sri Lanka last year. Not to forget, he averages over 22 as a batsman too. Though in a different format, Mishra wreaked havoc in the New Zealand camp in the just concluded ODI series. He claimed 15 wickets at 14.33 to guide India to 3-2 win.

With an off-spinner, left-arm orthodox and leg-spinner in the camp, India have plenty of variations at disposal. While the world No.1 Ashwin and the local boy Jadeja will hold the key, Mishra can act as a backup. If we see the above table, since his comeback, his strike rate has been as good as Ashwin s. This bit demonstrates his wicket-taking abilities.

Considering the batting depth, India would not be sending a bold message to the English camp if they go for six specialist batsmen. The balance of the side will wear a richer look if Shami and Ishant partner the new ball and then follow the troika of spinners Ashwin, Jadeja and Mishra.

And if the team management has little confidence on the five-specialist batter-theory, the only change from the above could be Pandya in place of Ishant. Come Wednesday, the tourists, who are eyeing spin and reverse swing to glory, should be served with a five-bowler course, which includes three scoops of spin.

(SuvajitMustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer, strategist, entrepreneur, philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully [Twitter]and rivu7 [Facebook].)