As always, there was plenty of chatter around India’s playing XI in the fourth Test at the Oval against England. When Virat Kohli announced the team changes, plenty were waiting for R Ashwin to be back. But that wasn’t to be, as the offspinner continued to stay in the bench. Instead, India got Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur into the mix. Umesh was playing his first match of the series while Thakur had played the first game, before missing the next due to injury. He was left out of the third Test, which India lost.
While many were confused by Ashwin’s exclusion, Kohli’s explanation did not help either.
“It’s something that we thought is a good match-up for Jadeja as well, because mostly all our seamers bowl over the wicket. It’s a nice little spot for the left-handers as well. I think according to the match-ups, it fits perfectly for our team – plus the balance he is giving us with the bat as well currently," explained Kohli at the toss.
No bowler has dismissed more left handers in Test cricket than Ashwin has. However, such was the combination India feel comfortable with, that there’s no place for Ashwin.
Meanwhile, it’s early days, but both the changes that India made were justified on Day 1. Thakur made a potentially game-changing half-century; a stunning counter attacking 57 off 36 balls. Umesh made an impact straightaway dismissing Joe Root.
Thakur walked to the crease with India disintegrating rapidly at 117 for 6. He drove off the frontfoot and backfoot with real power. He pulled and flicked with equal ferocity. He was dropped by wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow just before his 50. Ultimately, he was trapped lbw by Chris Woakes, who marked a notable return to Test cricket after an injury layoff.
Thakur’s aggression and defiance when the chips were down and the ball was still swinging was refreshing. It perhaps begs the question as to why he wasn’t chosen to play in the last Test at Headingley, which ended in disaster for the visitors. The victory at Lord’s forced India to go with an unchanged XI at Leeds, but Thakur was teh first choice in the series opener.
Thakur made a duck in the first Test but bagged four wickets across two innings, not bad for the fourth pacer’s role. Given he’s a genuine swing bowler who can move the ball away from the right hander, Thakur is a useful package.
Umesh, meanwhile, came in for Mohammed Shami who is carrying a niggle. Umesh dismissed Root with a beauty that hit the off stump after nipping back in, giving India comfort towards the end of the day’s play. A few more like that could help India maybe even get a first innings lead.
Meanwhile, India tried Ravindra Jadeja at No. 5 but the move didn’t work as he made only 10 runs. Ajinkya Rahane continued his poor form scoring only 14. Both have to lift their games soon.