India will clash with England in the massive third Test at the refurbished Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad from tomorrow – now the biggest in the world in terms of spectator capacity. With the series tied at 1-1, the Day and Night Pink Ball Test becomes a big match in the four-Test series not only in the context of this series but also the World Test Championship.
India are expected to make some changes. Their premier fast bowler is set to return after being given a smart break on the turner in Chennai. Umesh Yadav will also, in all likelihood, be included in the XI.
We look at the likely XI for India for the third Test in Ahmedabad.
Gill and Rohit Sharma to Open the Innings
Shubman Gill had a rare failure in the second Test in Chennai where he did not get off the mark in the first innings and was dismissed for just 14 in the second. But there is no chance of him being replaced or rested after the start he has had in his Test career. Gill has already shown his class in his short Test career scoring brisk runs with sublime timing at the top of the order for India. His 91 against Australia in Brisbane in the chase has been the highlight of his international career thus far – it laid the platform for one of the greatest chases in Test cricket history!
Rohit Sharma needed a big score after getting a few low scores in India and he again shut his detractors with one of the most majestic hundreds on Indian soil in Test cricket. On a difficult wicket which was aiding fast spin he not only scored big but did so at a very high strike rate dominating the opposition bowlers and the Indian batting both! Rohit can do what Sehwag did for India in Test cricket. Even if that means keeping a young talent like Mayank Agarwal at bay for a couple of years so be it!
Pujara, Kohli and Rahane Form the Middle Order
Cheteshwar Pujara could again be India’s biggest wicket if the Pink Ball starts doing tricks during the twilight period. Virat Kohli showed his class with a brilliant 62 in tough conditions in the second innings in Chennai – an innings full of concentration and determination where the Indian captain gave a lesson or two to the others on how to bat on a turning pitch. Two qualities defined his batting – taking a long stride forward to defend and going right back and across if the length was slightly shorter.
Kohli has scored three brilliant fifties in his last three Tests scoring runs in conditions aiding the bowlers when most other batsmen have failed around him. Ajinkya Rahane needed that 67 in the first innings of the second Test in Chennai. He hadn’t done much since 2020 with the exception of the great hundred at the MCG but for now at least has silenced his doubters with a half-century under a crunch situation in Chennai.
Rishabh Pant has done enough and more in front of the stumps to almost play as a specialist number 6 for India. He also pulled off a couple of remarkable catches and a fine stumping in Chennai and is now India’s designated wicket-keeper across formats in all conditions. Pant has been brilliant with the bat scoring splendid fifties in his last four Test matches.
The top 6 were easy. It gets interesting from hereon. Should India play three pace bowlers and two spinners? Should the home team strengthen their batting given it is a Pink Ball Test? What is the new wicket at Motera like? What are the other factors that could affect the selection?
Let us attempt to answer these questions – that will select the Number 7-11 positions for India at Motera.
Wicket Expected to Aid Spin But there is Twilight and There Will be Dew
The wicket for the third Test in Ahmedabad has some cover of green but it would, in all likelihood be removed before the start of the Test on Wednesday. India will not play a Day and Night Test at home against the likes of James Anderson and Jofra Archer on a green wicket – especially with the series tied at 1-1 and the result of this Test almost virtually deciding who joins New Zealand for the final of the World Test Championship at Lord’s in June.
But even on a placid wicket the Pink Ball might do some tricks just before the lights come on – a new Pink Ball might offer extra pace and bounce and seam movement and an older one some extra reverse swing. Also, another huge factor which could affect the course of play is the dew. There will be plenty of it in the evening which will make it difficult for the spinners to grip the Pink Ball.
Taking into consideration all the above listed factors and given the fact that Kuldeep Yadav was the least threatening of India’s spinners in the second Chennai Test, India will definitely play an extra seamer in place of the Chinaman bowler.
The question now remains – who will be the third seamer? Mohammed Siraj or Umesh Yadav.
Umesh Likely to be the Third Seamer
Mohammed Siraj has a big heart and has impressed in his short Test career thus far. He put his hands up and was India’s leading wicket-taker in his debut series in the absence of the big-wigs in Australia. But he may not be an outright match-winner with the ball even in a Pink Ball Day and Night Test in India. Umesh Yadav has more pace and sting and more weapons in his bowling arsenal and has the ability to run through the England line-up in what should be slightly favourable conditions at Motera.
Umesh has been amongst the best fast bowlers in the world since 2018. During this period he has bagged 49 wickets in 12 Tests at an average of 19.71. His strike rate of 35.1 is the best in the world amongst all fast bowlers in this time-frame. He could get the old ball to reverse and will especially be a handful in that dreadful twilight period for the batsmen. Umesh could be India’s trump card at Motera.
Jasprit Bumrah will return to the squad after a much needed break in the second Test in Chennai. Axar Patel had a great debut at Chepauk and given England’s problems against left-arm spin he should find a place in the XI in Ahmedabad as well even in a Pink Ball Test. R Ashwin, of course, the Player of the Match, who put on a record all-round performance in the second Test will be India’s lead spinner in the match. However, it will be interesting to see whether he gets the same assistance from the Pink Ball.
The return of Ashwin – the Batsman and Axar’s all-round prowess also means that India can play the extra seamer and do not need to play an additional batsman even in a Pink Ball Day and Night Test. The think tank may flirt with the idea of playing Hardik Pandya in place of Axar Patel but that should only be a consideration if the destructive all-rounder can also chip in with a substantial number of overs in the match. Playing Hardik – the specialist batsman over an in-form Axar will not be such a smart move.
So, this is India’s likely XI for the Pink Ball Test at Motera:
1. Rohit Sharma
2. Shubman Gill
3. Cheteshwar Pujara
4. Virat Kohli (c)
5. Ajinkya Rahane
6. Rishabh Pant (wk)
7. R Ashwin
8. Axar Patel
9. Ishant Sharma
10. Jasprit Bumrah
11. Umesh Yadav