Virat Kohli has been vocal about the 5 bowler strategy since he took over the test captaincy in Australia. India tried Harbhajan as the 5th bowler in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka hoping that Ashwin, Mishra and Harbhajan can compensate for the 7th batsmen in the team. The biggest problem for India though is that they haven’t found a reliable bowling all-rounder yet to successfully incorporate the 5 bowler strategy.
The other problem the team management will face is the batting combination. It is clear that the team think tank supports the selection of Rohit Sharma in the X1, but with the arrival of Pujara the debate begins once again. Rohit played at number 5 in the second and third tests in Sri Lanka and did reasonably okay at that spot. It is certain that Murali Vijay and Shikar Dhawan will reclaim their spots as the openers in the first test against SA which will push Pujara to number 3 in the order. Virat Kohli will bat at number 4 and Rahane at number 5.
This makes the selection very interesting. Considering Indian think tank still wants to employ 5 bowlers strategy that leaves only one spot open which will be taken by a wicketkeeper. So it will be interesting as to what combination India will play in the first test. The selection of Rohit Sharma is just one end of the stick. The other issue which India will face is getting a bowling all-rounder to occupy the number 7 spot if at all they decide to go with 5 bowlers.
India employed Stuart Binny for the last 2 tests in Sri Lanka. Binny did okay in those games but again he will not be that effective on Indian pitches. He might score some runs but his bowling will not be that effective on pitches which will be aiding spinners in all probability. In Indian conditions the team would need a spin bowling all-rounder to occupy the number 7 spot. India already has Ravichandran Ashwin who is a decent bowling all-rounder and Amit Mishra showed that he can handle the bat competently to score some useful runs down the order. Now the options for a spin bowling all-rounder is minimal.
Couple of years back Ravindra Jadeja was a certainty in the Indian team but his form has gone south in the last couple of years. His performance in the one off game against Bangladesh A was nothing to write home about. The other option India has is Karn Sharma. Karn’s performance in Adelaide on a turning track does not inspire much confidence on his test match bowling ability. His batting too wasn’t too flash in that game. The last and final option India has is Axar Patel. Axar has done well for India in limited opportunities he has received in the shorter formats but his credentials as a test match bowler is questionable.
So considering the above options for the 5th bowler, it will be interesting to see if India does decide to go with the 5 bowler option at all for the tests against SA. The return of the injured players and the arrival of Pujara back in to the X1 leaves the think tank with more headaches than they could handle. The batting combination needs to be worked out and the decision of Pujara or Rohit needs to be made ahead of the first test. This could also mean that India could ditch the 5 bowler strategy and play both Pujara and Rohit in the X1. If they decide to drop Rohit and play an all-rounder, it will be interesting to see whom they will pick. There are plenty of things to worry about for the Indian think tank ahead of the test series against South Africa. It will be interesting to see what combination Kohli & Co will go for in the test series.