Virat Kohli's big headache: To choose Gautam Gambhir or field extra spinner for Indore Test against New Zealand
Despite India celebrating the 250th Test at home with a series winning victory at Kolkata's historic Eden Gardens against New Zealand, India captain Virat Kohli will have some tough time selecting the playing XI for the third and final match in Indore.
Thanks to injuries, he is left with a lone opener and the salivating prospects of playing five bowlers – two pacers and three spinners – which adds to the team's selection conundrum. A big headache indeed.
Unfit Lokesh Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan have allowed come-back opener Gautam Gambhir to dream big one again. With the two specialist openers out, Gambhir is in line to play his first Test after a gap of two years.
For now, going by the script, Gambhir's selection in the playing XI for the October 8-12 match becomes almost certain. But the 34-year-old's comeback can still hit roadblock if Kohli opts to field an extra spinner at Holkar Stadium.
India played with two specialist spinners in Kolkata, but many questioned the leaving out of Amit Mishra from the playing XI, for the simple fact that the leg-spinner could have made India's bowling attack much more potent.
Even though India managed to beat New Zealand in the second Test and claimed the series with relative ease, hosts are likely to play with five bowlers in Indore. Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra and the pacers Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar/Umesh Yadav is certainly India's best bowling line-up currently.
And there's enough hint for Kohli to go for Mishra. With the third Test match of the series, if at all the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) tracks back from its stand to cancel the series, Holkar Stadium will become India's latest Test ground. But the venue will be no different from any other grounds in India.
According to reports, the pitch at Holkar Stadium is likely to assist spinners, as expected. It's claimed that there will be hint of grass on it but the ball is expected to turn from the second day itself. Besides, the pitch which will be used in the match is not the fresh one.
If Mishra comes in the XI, then Gambhir's chance of playing in Indore is effectively over. There is not a single batsmen in the current line-up who can be sacrificed to accommodate the opener. Rohit Sharma, who had become a subject of ridicule at the start of the series, scored a magnificent half-century in Kolkata to help swing the match in India's favour. His was the only case worthy of contemplation.
Mishra, in his 20 Test matches, has taken 71 wickets, and the 33-year-old has always managed to impress with craft and guile.
If Mishra indeed plays in the third test, then Cheteshwar Pujara is likely to open with Murali Vijay. For the record, Pujara has opened for India before, and negotiating the new ball will not be an issue for him. In fact, in his previous six innings as an opener, Pujara has scored a century and two fifties.
Also given New Zealand batsmen's struggle against Indian spinners, Ashwin and Jadeja, at Kanpur and Kolkata, Kohli and coach Anil Kumble might be tempted to field a third spinner. The spin twin has done just about enough to give India the edge of playing at home, but stakes so high, bringing Mishra may not be a bad move after all.
In the last home series, against South Africa, Indian spinners bamboozled the visiting Proteas batsmen. But this time, it's not that awe-inspiring.
Gambhir has not had the best of comebacks. He aggregated 25 runs in four innings against England in 2014, which was his comeback series after getting dropped in 2012, and the subsequent injury sabbatical the following year.
India lost the series 1-3, and Gambhir's place was subsequently taken by Shikhar Dhawan. And at the Kolkata Test, many predicted Gambhir to play, ahead of his state-mate. But that never happened, despite Gambhir's 'home awareness' of Eden Gardens pitch, thanks to his association with Indian Premier League franchise Kolkata Knight Riders.
Here, Gambhir's defence is that he is a specialist opener and has done more than enough in the domestic circles to make a comeback. He scored 77, 90, 59, 94 and 36 for India Blues in the Duleep Trophy.
Gambhir has played 56 Test matches so far, scoring 4046 runs at 42.58 with nine centuries and 21 half-centuries. His last ton came against Bangladesh in Chittagong in January 2010.
But the seasoned opener should not be disheartened even if he is ignored for the third Test, as he is in the schemes of things with India playing a record number of matches at home.
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