The heavy focus on Australia’s injury crisis ahead of next week’s first Test has distracted from India’s own woes, with the tourists a chance to be without two key bowlers at Adelaide.
India will be missing injured quick Ishant Sharma, who was outstanding in India’s last series here, taking 11 wickets at 23.
They could be even more greatly diminished by the unavailability of spin all-rounder Ravi Jadeja, who if fit could allow them the luxury of fielding four quicks under lights in the series opener.
Jadeja may miss the first Test due to a hamstring injury, but Indian reports have suggested the tourists could still plough ahead with a four-man pace attack, a strategy which would be foolish.
Whereas Jadeja is good enough to bat at seven, fellow spinner Ravi Ashwin is not, and India need a spinner in their attack for variety and to avoid over-rate issues.
Pace is understandably seen as key to winning Tests with the pink Kookaburra, which offers more assistance than the red version.
Yet Australian offie Nathan Lyon has proven quality spinners can flourish, too. In fact, Lyon is even more dangerous with the pink ball.
Since Australia began playing day-night Tests five years ago, Lyon’s grabbed 28 wickets at 26 with the pink ball, compared to 85 wickets at 33 with the red ball in home Tests.
Lyon has been particular damaging with the pink ball at Adelaide, with 19 wickets at 22. Long famed as a batting utopia, Adelaide has sported a much juicier surface in each of its day-night Tests.
This, quite obviously, is helpful to the quicks. What has been somewhat overlooked is the consistent purchase this moist Adelaide surface has provided spinners.
In Ashwin, India boast a world-class spinner with enormous experience in Australia, which he is now touring for the fourth time. The veteran offie was pivotal as India beat Australia two years ago in Adelaide, taking six wickets.
Ashwin bowled beautifully, albeit with little reward, in India’s tour match in Sydney last week. If Jadeja is unavailable, India would be mad to omit Ashwin for the opening Test.
In fact, I think India’s best XI includes both Ashwin and Jadeja. While Ashwin has declined greatly as a batsman, averaging just 17 in Tests over the past four calendar years, Jadeja has been piling up runs.
After being maligned for years as a bits-and-pieces player, or a home track hero, Jadeja has blossomed into the rarest of cricketers – a true all-rounder. The 31-year-old’s skill with the red ball is well known to Australians.
Jadeja has taken 59 wickets at 19 against the Aussies, and consistently tied down their batsmen last time India toured, taking seven wickets at 28 with an incredible economy rate of just 2.24 runs per over.
What Australian fans may be less familiar with is Jadeja’s gigantic improvement as a Test batsman. In his last 25 Tests, Jadeja has averaged 49 with the bat. He has been fantastically consistent in that period, reaching 50 in more than one-third of his innings.
This form surge would not have surprised cricket followers familiar with Jadeja’s domestic efforts. Outside of Tests, Jadeja has thumped 3,930 runs at 56 in first-class cricket, including three triple-centuries in India’s Ranji Trophy.
This generous batting talent is now being exploited at Test level. Jadeja has been in such imperious form that he’s batted in India’s top six in five of his past six Tests.
In those five Tests he made 284 runs at 71, underlining that he’s now arguably good enough to play as a specialist batsman. Not to mention that Jadeja is quite possibly the world’s best fieldsman. When all of these skills are combined it makes him the sort of cricketer who adds invaluable balance to a Test XI.
If he can regain fitness in time for the first Test, Jadeja should play alongside Ashwin in a five-man attack also featuring experienced quicks Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav.
India’s best XI for the first Test (if Jadeja is fit)
1. Mayank Agarwal
2. Shubman Gill
3. Cheteshwar Pujara
4. Virat Kohli
5. Ajinkya Rahane
6. Rishabh Pant (wk)
7. Ravi Jadeja
8. Ravi Ashwin
9. Mohammed Shami
10. Umesh Yadav
11. Jasprit Bumrah