India are set to beat New Zealand in the second Test with Ravichandran Ashwin taking three second-innings wickets as the visitors, chasing 540, fell to 5-140.
The Indian Test team over the last couple of years has been a settled one. The batting order especially has been almost the same, barring minor changes, while the bowling attack, in spite of some rotation, has remained fairly constant.
The biggest challenge for India will be to come up with a combination that will work outside Asia.
The Indian team has been playing five bowlers and having Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin in the team has helped them immensely in that regard. Hardik Pandya has played as the medium-pace all-rounder as well in the XI, giving India the flexibility to play five bowlers all the time.
The Indian team will play their first Test in South Africa earlier next year and it is unlikely the team will play both Ashwin and Jadeja in the XI.
The opening combination also has come into some scrutiny, with India unable to decide between KL Rahul, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan. The pace bowling attack of Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav seem to be the most likely combination to play in the first Test in South Africa.
This means that India will have to pick between Jadeja and Ashwin. The pitches in South Africa are not expected to be spin friendly so the team needs to have a clear idea as to who they want in the side.
The first Test against Sri Lanka saw India hardly using the spinners, which meant all the wickets were taken by the pacers. The Indian captain seems to be less confident in his spin bowlers on wickets which do not assist them and this makes the overall scenario more complicated.
The team management. according to reports, have asked for wickets similar to the one in Kolkata for the last two Tests which means similar strategy might be adopted by the captain.
The selectors also have picked Vijay Shankar, an all-rounder who can bowl medium pace, which might sway the team management to drop one of the spinners to accommodate him.
Virat Kohli needs to have a clear strategy in mind and utilise his spinners on wickets which aren’t suitable to them to determine who he would play outside Asia.
The batting combination at the top also needs some sorting as India currently have three openers and, if Vijay scores runs in the final two Tests, the team will end up with another selection headache.
The pace bowling attack though gives a settled look in spite of Umesh Yadav’s inconsistent display in the first Test against Sri Lanka.
Ishant Sharma might get a look in for the second Test in the absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
The Indian team have had a great run over the last couple of years but their real test is about to begin, starting with the tour to South Africa.
Kohli understands the next year and a half will be extremely crucial for the Test team and would want to zero in on the right combination ahead of the same.
Do India have confidence to go with five bowlers without playing Ashwin and Jadeja? Is Hardik Pandya good enough to be number six outside Asia? These are the questions the team management will be looking to get answers for ahead of the crucial tour.