We’re just hours away from the last Test match of one of the most remarkable series ever played by India and Australia.
By now we all know the long list of injuries for the Indian side. A lot of those were impact injuries sustained during practice or the game. As unfortunate as these injuries have been, one will have to question the technical deficiencies that may have led to them – the pitches in this series have been well prepared and have not behaved unpredictably, so the team cannot blame them.
Additionally, India will have to devise a strategy to help their bowlers avoid getting hurt by short-pitch barrages of the opposition.
I also question India’s fitness and conditioning coach for the injuries sustained by Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah. How come the Aussie fast bowling trio have managed to turn up for Test match after Test match over the past three years but India have been going through a long list of injured bowlers in the same period?
If India loses the Gabba Test and the series, I hope the Indian supporters don’t point to the injury list as the reason for the loss. The players, the coaches, the strategists and the cricket planners are all part of the team, and none of the injuries was an act of god. This team is called India and not India A or B in the official records.
Now, coming to the Gabba Test, what are the options in front of the Indian team? Do they replace the outgoing players like Hanuma Vihari, Ravindra Jadeja and Jasprit Bumrah with like-for-like players? Do they change the team’s composition based on the relative strengths of the squad that is fit enough to play the match?
India should go in with enough cover for the bowling side, even if it means they are a batsman short. The Gabba is not a minefield in which anyone who can bowl with the seam upright can run through a batting line-up. Opposition bowling sides have often got the length wrong at the Gabba, and Australia has punished them for it. So India must keep the Australian scores in the 300 range.
I will go with Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Takur, Thangarasu Natarajan, Kuldeep Yadav and Ravichandran Ashwin as my five bowlers.
Mohd Siraj is an automatic pick to lead the bowling unit. Shardul Takur has toured Australia before as part of the India A team and has bowled in Brisbane. Shardul’s ability to employ the cross seam will come in handy on this pitch. I will have him open the bowling alongside Siraj.
My third seamer will be Natarajan. The third seamer is expected to at least keep the run-scoring down if he cannot pick wickets. Natarajan will bring in the left-handed angle, swing the ball back into the right-handers and know how to keep the run-scoring low.
I prefer him over Navdeep Saini, who can go for runs aplenty if he gets it wrong. Saini has got it wrong more often in this series than he’s got it right. Australian batsmen have targeted him since the first ODI in Sydney. When the opposition is targeting a bowler, that should tell you how well he’s bowling. Let’s not get carried away by the two wickets he picked up in Sydney’s second innings.
As far as the spinners, I will go with Kuldeep and Ashwin. The great Shane Warne often says that if the pitch seams, it will spin as well. He has the statistics at the Gabba to back up his words. I will go with the great man’s words and pick Kuldeep in the team to exploit the bounce and the turn the pitch will offer to spinners.
There is an injury cloud over Ashwin, but I will assume he plays for time being. If Ashwin misses out, one will be forced to take in Saini as the fourth bowling option. In any case I will go with the five-bowler option as bowling is India’s weak link and will need some cover for failure.
Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant are automatic batting picks. I will go with Wridhiman Saha as the specialist wicketkeeper and batsman for the game. Considering the weak bowling line-up, whatever chances the bowlers create, the wicketkeeper has to take them. Saha is not that poor a batsman as he showcased in Adelaide.
To sum up, India’s strategy should be to make sure Australia does not bat India out of the game. The best way to do that is to have a deep and varied bowling line-up with a reliable wicketkeeper. Then expect that the reasonably experienced batting line-up will play to their potential and score the runs. These are not times of bumper harvests anyway.
My Indian team for the Gabba
Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Wridhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Takur, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Siraj and Thangarasu Natarajan with Navdeep Saini as 12th man.