The problems for the Indian cricket team management stem as much from uncertain form as the injuries to key bowlers. The form issues got magnified as the middle order batsmen failed to get going in the last two One-Day Internationals (ODI) after winning the first game to lose the series 1-2.
What must be worrying for captain Virat Kohli and team director Ravi Shastri is the ease with which English batsmen played the hitherto dreaded wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yajuvendra Chahal after looking all at sea in the Twenty20 series and even in the first ODI which the Indians won with ease, by eight wickets.
As the team management pondered over the reasons for the sudden reversal of form, Mahendra Singh Dhoni took the match ball from the umpires when the players were returning to the pavilion, triggering a speculation that the former India captain may have played the last international for the country!
It turned out, as revealed by Shastri to put the speculation to rest, Dhoni wanted the bowling coach to see the wear and tear of the ball to make a realistic assessment of the pitch and ground condition while formulating the strategy for Tests.
India’s biggest worry is whether they have the bowling to take 20 wickets in a Test like they did in all the three Tests in South Africa. They do not appear to have the potential wicket-takers with the new ball. They are handicapped by the absence of two of their key wicket-takers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jaspirt Bumrah, both are nursing injuries.
Bumrah might recover in time for the second Test from his broken thumb he suffered in the first match in Ireland, but Bhuvneshwar’s low back pain appears to be more serious.
On paper, the fast bowling still looks adequate with Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav being experienced enough to man the department.
Shami hopefully has left his personal and fitness problems behind to be fresh enough to produce the form that made him the highest wicket-taker with 15 wickets in South Africa six months ago.
The next best was 14 wickets of Bumrah ahead of Bhuvneshwar’s 10 and Ishant’s eight.
As for spin, which will have a greater role to play in the second half of the English summer, Kuldeep Yadav’s chances of playing were dented after the way Joe Root went after him in the last two one-dayers.
So, for the first Test at Birmingham Ravindra Jadeja should team up with Ravichandran Ashwin. The tour selectors will be in a dilemma whether they should prefer the accuracy of Jadeja to tighten things when they are not going their way or gamble with Kuldeep.
Kohli has a problem picking his five batsman with three openers looking as good or as uncertain. To retain the team balance, he will have to drop one of them and it will be a toss up between Rahul and Vijay, one oozing talent and the other with a proven record in overseas conditions.
There could be a possibility of Rahul coming in for Pujara but then the form of both has not been all that encouraging. It will be a defensive as well as unlikely move to play six batsmen plus Dinesh Karthik, dropping Hardik Pandya, who looks as good a batsman as any. Pandya has more often than not been among wickets in every format.>