Explained: Why is an injured Ravindra Jadeja a big blow to India ahead of Brisbane Test?

Jadeja is the only genuine allrounder in the Indian team and his presence allowed the team management to go with five specialist bowlers. But the BCCI has confirmed that the southpaw is ruled out of the final Test.

The Indian team is injury-ravaged. With a left thumb dislocation rendering Ravindra Jadeja hors de combat for the series-deciding final Test in Brisbane, and injury cloud hanging over Hanuma Vihari, Ravichandran Ashwin and Jasprit Bumrah, the Indian team management has limited options.

How many players are injured?

The list has swollen to nine. Ishant Sharma (side strain), Mohammed Shami (arm fracture) Umesh Yadav (calf muscle) Jadeja (left thumb dislocation) Hanuma Vihari (hamstring), Rishabh Pant (bruised left-arm), Ashwin (bad back) Jasprit Bumrah (abdominal strain) and KL Rahul (wrist sprain).

Why Jadeja’s injury is a big blow?

It upsets the entire balance. Jadeja is the only genuine allrounder in the Indian team and his presence allowed the team management to go with five specialist bowlers. But the BCCI has confirmed that the southpaw is ruled out of the final Test.

The team management had enough faith in Jadeja as a batsman, which he vindicated in the second Test in Melbourne, scoring 57 in the first innings and having a game-turning 121-run partnership with captain Ajinkya Rahane. Also, over the last three years, Jadeja’s Test batting average is north of 55 in 16 matches. His presence allowed the team to have a proper batsman at No.7 apart from his left-arm spin. India don’t have a like-for-like replacement for Jadeja. Either a specialist batsman or a specialist bowler will have to be picked as a forced replacement, at the expense of team balance.

Who could be Jadeja’s replacement?

Kuldeep Yadav is in the squad and his left-arm chinaman can add variety. Then again, the Gabba boasts of the fastest pitch in Australia at the moment and there’s a school of thought that going with two spinners on a surface, expected to be tailor-made for the pacers, would be a luxury. Former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar, who also served as the country’s chief selector, however, feels that playing Kuldeep, a wrist-spinner, “won’t be a bad idea”, for “extra bounce will come to his aid”.

Is Bumrah doubtful for the final Test?

According to sources, the fast bowler is uncertain. He was seen clutching his abdomen during Australia’s second innings in Sydney. It is learnt that an update on his fitness is expected in a day or two. In case Bumrah doesn’t turn up in Brisbane, India’s fast-bowling options will be limited to Mohammed Siraj (two Tests), Navdeep Saini (one Test), Shardul Thakur (one Test) and T Natarajan (yet to make his Test debut).

Who has the edge if Bumrah misses out?

Siraj will have to lead the pace attack in that case. Saini was a little erratic in his first Test, but he had four wickets in the match and is expected to retain his place. So, if Bumrah is not fit, it will be a toss-up between Thakur and Natarajan.

Thakur made his Test debut against the West Indies in October 2018. It remains his only Test yet. The 29-year-old is a domestic cricket thoroughbred with 206 wickets from 62 first-class matches. He can swing the ball both ways at a decent pace; around 135kph. Also, Thakur is a capable lower-order batsman.

Natarajan, yet again, will be the sentimental favourite, given the hardship he faced while growing up. He made a seamless progression to white-ball internationals. However, as far as red-ball cricket is concerned, Natarajan is still an unknown quantity. To start with, his first-class career is still in its formative stage with just 20 matches so far. He thrives on yorkers and slower deliveries in the shorter formats, but as his state team (Tamil Nadu) coach Diwakar Vasu told this paper, Natarajan “needs to swing the ball” in Test cricket.

Vengsarkar, though, votes for Natarajan. “A left-arm seamer, bowling over the wicket and creating the angle will be different. Three right-arm fast bowlers at times can become a tad one-dimensional,” he told The Indian Express.

Is Ashwin uncertain as well?

Ashwin is not someone who easily throws in the towel. He played through pain during his memorable 128-ball 39 not out at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on Monday. People came to know about his back injury only after Ashwin’s wife Prithi posted a tweet, mentioning the injury, at the end of the third Test.

The Indian team management, it is learnt, is pretty hopeful that Ashwin will play in Brisbane. He has been bowling beautifully in the ongoing series, accounting for 12 wickets in three Tests at 28.83. In case he is ruled out, then Kuldeep remains the only spin option. A four-pronged pace attack (if Bumrah is fit) with three rookie fast bowlers could be high-risk.

Who could be Vihari’s replacement?

Vihari could barely move between the wickets during his 161-ball blockathon at the SCG. His chances don’t look bright, with the final Test commencing in three days.

India’s reserve bench in Australia now has only two fit batsmen – Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw. Both are openers. The team, though, has a reliable opening pair in Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill. Rohit, originally a middle-order batsman in the longer format, has adjusted himself brilliantly at the top. His average opening the innings is 79.25, including two centuries and a double hundred. In Sydney, coming back from an injury layoff, he got a start in the first innings and scored a half-century in the second. His batting position is unlikely to be altered.

That leaves the team management to try Agarwal in the middle-order, but Vengsarkar doesn’t back the idea. “It’s difficult for a specialist opener to bat in the middle-order. The mindset is different, as also the approach, and it’s difficult to make the adjustment at such short notice,” the former India captain said, adding that Pant playing as a specialist batsman and Saha keeping wickets could be an option.

Saha could bat either at No.6 or 7 if he plays. The 36-year-old has three centuries and five fifties in Test cricket, but his inconsistency with the bat remains a concern. The team management will have to take a call on whether they would be OK with a weakened lower-order.

Can India afford to have five bowlers?

That’s the biggest question. With Jadeja available, it was an easy decision to have five bowlers without affecting the team’s balance. Vengsarkar, though, still believes that India should go with five bowlers. “The problem with four bowlers is that if someone gets injured during the game, you are reduced to just three specialist bowlers. Any injury is unfortunate and Jadeja will be missed. But there’s no point brooding over it. You have to pick a winning combination from the options available and I’m sure that the team is also thinking that way. Going with five bowlers has served the team well,” he said.

On the face of it, if five bowlers play, the combination might well be three pacers and two spinners, with Kuldeep returning to the Test fold after more than two years.

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