Indian captain Virat Kohli and the team management have gone in for the five-bowler formula in the first-ever World Test Championship (WTC) final to be played against New Zealand in Southampton from Friday. It is this very strategy that helped India emerge victorious in the past two-Test series – against England (3-1) at home and in Australia (2-1) – earlier this year.
India won five of their eight Tests over the two series with five bowlers in the playing 11. They managed to draw one Test and lost two matches, in one of which they picked four bowlers.
Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri have realised that to win Test matches, especially in foreign conditions where the Indian batsmen may struggle, too, it is crucial to bowl out the opposition twice. The fact that the current bowling attack has managed to bowl out Australia and England 14 times in 16 innings over the eight Tests has only strengthened this theory.
While other than the first-choice bowlers – pacers Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah and spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja – India played several others in the two series, it is these five who have been at the core of the attack over the past few years.
India’s success story in international cricket under the captaincy of Kohli has been scripted, more often than not, by this combination. It is, thus, inevitable that the team has picked its best five bowlers in a match as crucial as the WTC final.
The Ageas Bowl strip is expected to be pacy, with bounce and carry, which will predominantly help fast bowlers. Overcast conditions and a forecast of rain over the weekend in Southampton will only make conditions more suitable for pace bowling.
New Zealand, with their battery of pacers – Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Kylie Jamieson, Neil Wagner and Matt Henry – will make life difficult for the Indian top order, which struggled in similar conditions against the same attack last year. India lost a two-match series 2-0 to New Zealand when they toured there in 2020.
While Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant would be well prepared to take on the mighty New Zealand attack, what they lack is match practice in these English conditions. That is exactly where – in case of a collapse – the batting capabilities of Jadeja and Ashwin at No. 7 and No. 8 will come in handy, thus adding balance to both the batting and bowling lineups.
Sadly, however, pacer Mohammed Siraj and middle-order batsman Hanuma Vihari have missed out on selection despite performing brilliantly in the recent past. Siraj would have got a look in had India opted to go in for just one spinner and Vihari could have batted at No. 6 had the team picked only four bowlers. The talented duo are sure to get their chances as India play a five-match Test series against England in August-September.
For now, though, all eyes are on Southampton as the Fab Five – a moniker used for Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman – for India this time aren’t their star batsmen, but their best bowlers.