Kohli’s India brace for tough English Test

Nottingham, Aug 03 (PTI): The toughest four months of Virat Kohli’s eventful leadership career start here on Wednesday when his strategic acumen will be tested while selecting a perfect Indian combination to take on a good England side in the first Test of a five-match series.
Kohli announced his playing XI for the World Test Championship final against New Zealand couple of days before the game and drew flak for not respecting the conditions.
However, on Wednesday, he will have to think overtime about the balance of his squad with a long tail, often bushy with runs, and just two openers — one untested (Rohit Sharma) but very capable and another supremely talented (KL Rahul) but highly reluctant starter.
Rahul, with 2000 plus Test runs, looks a logical choice to partner Rohit after Mayank Agarwal’s concussion but the lack of Hardik Pandya and the utility of two specialist spinners does come into the question. Bengal’s Abhimanyu Easwaran had last played a first-class game in March, 2020 and that too after enduring a horrendous season. Will the team risk him? It would be a huge call.
That brings into the equation Hanuma Vihari, the team’s ‘All-Purpose Player’, who had once faced the new ball in Australia. His handy off-spin, along with that of automatic choice Ravichandran Ashwin, could also pave the way for Shardul Thakur’s entry as the bowling all-rounder in place of an experienced Ravindra Jadeja.
Mohammed Shami is still a wily customer and Ishant Sharma still possesses a big heart but they are ageing.
Jasprit Bumrah, since his lower back stress fracture in 2019, is hardly the Test bowler one has come to know but his success in the last series may ensure a start for him.
But where does it leave India’s fastest and most in-form bowler Mohammed Siraj, whose raw pace ousted a concussed Agarwal from this Test match?
It would probably require a leap of faith from the skipper to ignore Siraj’s calibre.
The job for Kohli and his seasoned top-order would be easier said than done on a grassy Trent Bridge pitch.
So Cheteshwar Pujara, whose middle-name critics would want to be “intent”, and Ajinkya Rahane, who at times has looked a better Test match captain, would have to do something special.
There is still no danger to their places in the squad contrary to popular belief but if there are options like Suryakumar Yadav (he boarded the flight from Colombo today) and these players don’t perform, it will be difficult to keep talented men out of the team.
For Joe Root, in a gruelling Test series, Broad and Anderson would certainly be rotated keeping their age in mind but even the England captain would be quick to acknowledge that Ben Stokes’ absence due to “mental health issues” would be a very big factor.
The likes of Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Dan Lawrence, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope at times don’t inspire the highest level of confidence and it could be interesting as to how they counter Ashwin’s mastery and Shami’s guile.
Trust Root and Buttler to do the heavy-lifting.

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