Sidharth Monga. in ESPNCcricinfo, 15 December 2020
Wriddhiman Saha, R Ashwin and Prithvi Shaw have been named to represent India in the Adelaide Test. Umesh Yadav will be the third seamer. These were the main questions India were contemplating two days before the Test: whether to continue backing the flamboyant Shaw, whether to play a spinner and persist with the safer option of Ashwin, and which of the wicketkeepers to play. On the eve of the day-night Test, they settled all the confusion by naming the XI.
Shaw had come under pressure with Shubman Gill faring better in the two tour games, in the process impressing the likes of Allan Border and Sunil Gavaskar, the legends after whom the series is named. However, Shaw was the incumbent opener and showed in one innings out of four in New Zealand that he can be destructive. He scored 0, 19, 40 and 3 in the two tour games, but more than the scores it was his loose shots that worried Gavaskar and Border. It is understood, though, that with a settled middle order in place, India wanted continuity at the top too and went with the incumbent.
Similarly, the incumbent Test spinner – especially with Ravindra Jadeja’s absence due to injury and concussion – kept his place. The last time India chose against Ashwin in a series opener was on Australia’s tour of 2014-15, a move that was criticised for blooding in Karn Sharma, whose lack of experience showed on a pitch where Australia’s spinner Nathan Lyon proved to be the gamechanger.
Reasonable as it is to play Ashwin, this time around, there could have been a case made for not playing a spinner at all in the series opener because in day-night Tests in Australia, spinners have averaged 49 despite Lyon’s superlative average of 25 in these matches. Lyon’s success is perhaps a sign that world-class spinners have a chance to correct these statistics based on a small sample size of seven Tests. There is no doubt that Ashwin and Lyon have been the two premier spinners in Test cricket, followed only slightly behind by Jadeja, over this decade.
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In the case of the wicketkeeper, however, India dropped the incumbent Pant, who has been preferred to Saha in Tests outside Asia where most of the wicketkeeping is done standing back. It is in India that the team management believes Saha’s superior wicketkeeping skills come into play when standing up to the spinners. The team management seems to have decided that the pink ball does a lot and will require a more established pure wicketkeeper. And Pant’s century in the SCG warm-up notwithstanding, he did have an ordinary New Zealand tour, scoring 60 runs in four innings. He is yet to play for India in any international cricket since then.
Yadav was the frontrunner to be India’s third seamer, replacing the injured Ishant Sharma. Not only does he have Test experience – this is his fourth Australia tour – he also impressed in the only warm-up game he played, taking 3 for 48 and 1 for 14 and also scoring handy runs down the order.
India XI: 1 Mayank Agarwal, 2 Prithvi Shaw, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt.), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Hanuma Vihari, 7 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 8 R Ashwin, 9 Umesh Yadav, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFEATURES