The Indian Test team has a lot of things going for it. They are lead by Virat Kohli who genuinely cares about succeeding in the Test format. They have batsmen who have the technique and the temperament to succeed in different conditions. Their fitness standards are good. And the bowling attack is arguably the best in their history.
But as good as the team is, the Indians consistently fail in one department and that has cost them dear on many occasions – team selection.
Assessing the conditions and picking the right playing XI is an art, albeit not that difficult. But the Indian management has made three flabbergasting selections this year alone.
At the beginning of the year, Kohli and Co dropped seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar for the second Test against South Africa in Centurion despite the player picking up six wickets and scoring 38 runs in a low-scoring game in the opener.
Then in the Lord’s Test in England, left-arm spinner Kuldeep Yadav was selected despite the pitch being damp and under covers for a day. India lost that Test by an innings as Kuldeep bowled just nine overs.
India appeared to opt for Umesh's pace ahead of Bhuvneshwar's accuracy. Since the start of 2015 no Indian pace bowler has pitched a higher proportion of his deliveries on a good line and length than Bhuvneshwar's 44%. #AUSvIND— Freddie Wilde (@fwildecricket) December 14, 2018
That tendency to make strange selections reared its head again in ongoing Perth Test against Australia.
India had to make two changes to the winning team from the Adelaide Test following injuries to Ravi Ashwin and Rohit Sharma. Middle order bat Hanuma Vihari was a straight swap for Rohit but their decision to go with the still erratic Umesh Yadav instead of the reliable all-round skills of spinner Ravindra Jadeja or the swing of Bhuvneshwar raised a few eyebrows.
Jadeja could have done what Ashwin managed in the first Test – tie one end up, pick up a few wickets and score handy runs. But what they got was Umesh’s expensive bowling on a wicket tailormade for fast bowling.
Bhuvneshwar could have been lethal on the Perth pitch that offered huge variations in bounce and is also a fine batsman in his own right. But India went for the unreliable bowling of Umesh, which coupled with the part-time spin on Vihari, put tremendous pressure on the rest of the attack.
Whether or not India win the Perth Test – which seems unlikely given the state of the pitch and Australia’s daunting total – the fact is India’s selection policy leaves a lot to be desired.
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Hanuma Vihari emerged as the surprise star for India on Day 1 of the second Test against Australia, picking up two wickets with his part-time off-spin to help his side rein in their hosts after a strong start.
Vihari, who replaced an injured Rohit Sharma, was India’s main spin option after Virat Kohli chose to go with an all-pace attack in the wake of off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin’s injury.
Playing in just his second Test, Vihari took the crucial wicket of the well-set opener Marcus Harris for 70 with a ripper of a delivery, before later picking up Shaun Marsh.
“I was lucky enough to get that extra bounce,” Vihari said of the Harris wicket. “It was an important wicket at that stage, because he was set, and looking dangerous after lunch.”
“I was trying to bowl my best for the team, and I was lucky enough to get the wicket.”
On a Perth Stadium pitch that offered plenty of pace and bounce, Vihari quickly adjusted his bowling style to extract the most out of the surface.
He said: “I tried to bowl a little quicker after the first few deliveries, because I was trying to hit the surface a little bit more and get that bounce off the wicket. Otherwise, just tried to keep things tight and let the seamers rest.”
Vihari praised India’s pace bowlers as they toiled throughout the day before fighting back to restrict Australia to 277/6.
“Our only plan was to be disciplined, and I thought we did well in that aspect,” said the 25-year-old. “In all three sessions, we bounced back really well.”
“We had so many plays and misses, which happens in the game, but overall I thought the bowlers put in a great effort.”
Australia are slightly ahead after Day 1, but Vihari believes that if India’s bowling can restrict the hosts to 320 on Saturday morning, and then he and his fellow batsmen can respond well, they’ll be well-placed in the game.
He said: “The first hour tomorrow will be crucial. If we can get them out below 320 we’re right back in the game.
“If we can bat well in the first innings, we’ll have a good chance, but the important thing for us is the first hour in the morning. I’m sure the pacers will come good.”
The pitch has already thrown up some variable bounce, which could threaten India’s 1-0 lead in the series as they will face a tough time against Australia’s bowling attack. But Vihari believes he and his teammates can cope with the pitch.
“The important thing is not to think about those aspects too much,” he said.
“We can only expect a certain bounce and you have to play for that. If the pitch is up and down, you can’t do much about it. If we can keep that out of our minds, then we’ll be successful.”
“You have to play ball by ball. If you’re thinking about the previous ball, you wan’t react perfectly for the next ball. So take that ball out of your mind.”
“As a batting unit, we’ll try to be as disciplined as possible, like we did in the last match in the second innings.”
Pandya has not played since the Asia Cup, and skipped the India A limited-overs tour to New Zealand in order to focus on returning for India’s ongoing Test series in Australia.
The 25-year-old picked up the first two Mumbai wickets to fall on Friday after Baroda won the toss and elected to field – a decision that looked wise when Pandya’s opening burst left Mumbai at 28/2, but soon started to seem like the wrong call as the visitors’ middle-order piled on the runs to reach 333/3.
If Pandya proves his fitness in this four-day game, he could potentially be drafted into India’s squad for the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, the third Test of the series.
India are currently 1-0 up, with Friday also the first day of the second Test in Perth.