‘I don’t know much’ – Rohit unsure if Dharamsala pitch will require three seamers or two


India have picked two seamers in each Test of this series against England so far. In the first two Tests in Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam, they picked two seamers even though England picked just one.

It’s possible that India could play the extra fast bowler compared to England in the fifth Test in Dharamsala too. While England have gone with a 2-2 attack in the XI they named on the eve of the Test, the weather conditions may be causing India to mull the option of a third seamer.

“Certainly. Why shouldn’t [a third seamer] come in?” India captain Rohit Sharma said in his pre-match press conference on Wednesday. “If we feel the weather is going to be like this, there is a good chance. We’ve not yet completely decided on it, but there is a good chance – definitely.”

Cool weather is expected through the Test, with morning temperatures in single digits (Celsius) on the first three days. Forecasts for day one have improved, though; over the week leading into the match, predictions of rain and even snow on Thursday have given way to a forecast for clear skies.

While there is a widespread belief that overcast conditions benefit swing bowling, research has not really established a link. Research does indicate, however, that the ball does tend to swing more in cooler weather. This, rather than the pitch – which does not appear to have any significant grass cover – could prompt India to play the extra quick.

“I’ve not played a Test match here,” Rohit said. “The last time we played a Test match here was [in] 2017 – against Australia – and both seamers and spinners were in play, but I’m not too sure [how it will go this time]. It’s a different weather here, and [I don’t know] how the pitch is going to react and stuff like that.

“I don’t really know too much about it. But looking at the pitch right now, it looks like a good pitch. Obviously you have to expect, when there’s weather like that, that there will be some movement, and maybe later on as the game goes on there will be some turn or something like that.

“I believe it’s going to be a typical Indian pitch – or Indian-conditions kind of Test match – where there will be some movement at the start of the innings, and [also] towards the back end [of the day’s play], maybe, when the temperature slightly drops. And then in the middle [session], there will be some spin, I guess – or maybe not, I don’t know.”

That uncertainty is perhaps why England have gone with a 2-2 attack rather than playing three seamers and the lone spinner. The luxury of having two spin-bowling allrounders in Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin, however, allows India to play five bowlers in almost all conditions, ensuring that they have at least two bowlers of each variety, and either a third spinner or third seamer depending on the conditions.

Over the course of this series, Kuldeep Yadav has established himself as the first-choice third spinner behind Ashwin and Jadeja, moving ahead of Axar Patel by demonstrating superior wicket-taking ability as well as stickability with the bat.

While Rohit hailed Kuldeep’s improvement with ball and bat in recent months, he indicated that Jadeja and Ashwin remain on top of India’s spin pecking order.

“Kuldeep in the last two years, he has been bowling differently,” Rohit said. “Even in white-ball cricket, since he has come back from his knee injury, he seems to be a different bowler. There’s a bit of bite in his bowling, [and] a bit of drift in his bowling. He’s putting so much effort into his bowling, into his rhythm and everything. He’s changed a lot of things after he’s come back from his injury, which is what you see differently now in this last two-three years that he has played.

“And he does understand why he has not played as many Test matches. He understands that. Clearly, in India, the two frontline spinners are Ash and Jadeja. They contribute a hell of a lot to this team with bat and ball, so there’s no question there with them.

“The third spinner, whenever we choose to field [one], it depends on what the captain wants. Whether he wants that longevity with batting… since we were playing on slightly challenging pitches, you need that depth. And actually it has rewarded us in a big way where Axar has come in and played some crucial knocks – whether it was against England last time when they were here [in 2020-21], [or] against Australia [in 2022-23] as well.

“If we’ve played Washy [Washington Sundar], he’s not failed to live up to the expectations as well. He’s got runs – not as many wickets, but he’s got runs.

“So it was a tough call to make with the third spinners. But then, again, it just depends on where as a team you feel slightly comfortable. But look, Kuldeep has shown that he’s got batting ability as well in the last couple of innings he’s played for us. He’s showed that he can not just hold the bat, but do a lot more than that. And he played a crucial knock in the Ranchi Test match with Dhruv [Jurel].

“That partnership was a match-winning partnership in my eyes, with Dhruv getting 90 and Kuldeep getting [28], which got us very close to their first-innings [total]. I think that was the changing point. So yeah, moving forward, it is a good headache that we have in front of us.”

There’s a good headache in Dharamsala too, but of a different kind. Do India pick a third spinner, in which case Kuldeep keeps his place, or do they play three quicks in Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj and Akash Deep?

We’ll know the answer on Thursday. Rohit even joked that there could be a shock answer, when he reflected on Ashwin’s career as he gears up for his 100th Test.

“First of all, it’s a huge achievement,” Rohit said. “For any player, getting to 100 Tests is a huge milestone, and R Ashwin has been a huge match-winner for us. No praise is enough for what he’s done for our team over all these years. If you see his performances over a period of 5-7 years, he’s made big, big contributions in every series. You get to see very few players like that, and I’d like to congratulate him first of all, for getting close to this 100-Test landmark – the toss hasn’t happened yet, so (laughs).”

Rohit reflected on the unusual paths both his career and Ashwin’s have gone since they first played together at Under-17 level, where Rohit was a batting allrounder and Ashwin an opening batter.

“It feels good if you get to see the fruits of all the labour you put in. I’ve been watching him for so many years.” he said. “We played together in the Under-19s – we played in the Under-17s too – and he used to be a batter then, an opener, and he started bowling later. I used to bowl then, but I became a batsman, so it’s all gone upside-down, but it’s gone well for Indian cricket.

“I’ve been watching him for such a long time, how he’s evolved as a cricketer. He has so much understanding of his game, and you don’t need to think too much if you have such a player in your team. If you put the ball in his hand, he runs the game himself – how to get the batter out, what field to set.

“And apart from what we get to see on the ground, there’s a huge reason behind it, which is the work he does off the field on his bowling. I’ve seen him so many times, bowling to one stump. For half an hour or 40 minutes before the match, or one day before the Test match, bowling to one stump. It’s a basic cricket [drill]; just like we bat for one hour or two hours in the nets, bowlers also prepare by bowling to one stump. Ashwin has been doing this ever since he came into the team, to this day. It’s his process.”

In the third Test of this series in Rajkot, a family emergency forced Ashwin to leave for home on the evening of day two. He returned on day four, however, and contributed with the ball to India’s record detonation of England. Rohit held this up as an example of Ashwin’s team-first nature.

“The biggest thing is that he’s a team player,” Rohit said. “We saw it during the Rajkot Test. It was quite a difficult situation for him, but he called me up and said he wanted to come back and do something for the team. You see these things very rarely in players, and when you have players like that in your team, you raise your head even higher.”

Karthik Krishnaswamy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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