India will feel they could have played another spinner based on Wednesday's showing
Ahead of the start of the five-Test series against England, Virat Kohli and India were faced with a question – whether to line up with two specialist spinners or to stick with a four-man pace attack which included all-rounder Hardik Pandya.
In the end, Kohli opted to go with the latter as the overcast conditions and perhaps England’s own decision to go with a lone spinner in the form of Adil Rashid played on his mind.
At the end of the first-day’s play at Edgbaston, the Indian skipper would have been left wondering if he had missed a trick by not going in with two spinners.
It was not the four-man pace attack that got India the initial breakthrough on Wednesday. It was instead the off-spin of Ravichandran Ashwin that shattered Alastair Cook’s off-stump as early as the ninth over of England’s innings.
In that ripper of a delivery, Ashwin had made it clear that there was joy to be had for the spinners. The drift, turn and guile all seemed to be working for him as Cook fell the off-spinner for the eighth time in his career.
That was just the start for Ashwin. His delivery to trap Jos Buttler plumb in front of the wicket for a duck was further proof of the purchase available for spinners at Edgbaston.
By the time the day was winding down, Ashwin’s confidence was soaring as he brought out his ‘outswinger’ to dismiss Stuart Broad. Kohli and team India would have been mighty pleased with their day’s work after reducing England to 285-9. But in their minds, they would know that it could have been even better.
Had they played to their strengths and picked either Ravindra Jadeja or Kuldeep Yadav to go with Ashwin, the outcome of Wednesday could have been much different with the way England struggled against spin. Only Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow played Ashwin with any surety and even then the latter was lucky on a few occasions as the outside edge drifted just wide of the slip fielders.
Instead, India were stuck with Pandya as their fifth bowling option and the all-rounder failed to create any major impact. The 10 overs Pandya bowled fetched England 46 runs as he relieved the pressure created by the other bowlers on multiple occasions.
His bowling display on Wednesday meant India were bowling very much with a four-man bowling attack. While it might still not be too big a price to pay for the visitors yet, they could rue going in with only one spinner by the time the second innings comes around.
If the pitch continues to deteriorate under the influence of the ongoing heatwave, spinners could have an even greater role to play. England still have the luxury of turning to skipper Joe Root for some part-time off spinners if the situations so desires.
India, unfortunately, will not have that option with none of their batsmen being part-time spinners. As Root showed in Yorkshire’s Roses clash against Lancashire recently, he can be an effective option when the conditions are just right.
While it is too late for India now to change that aspect in the ongoing Test, they certainly now have some food for thought for the remaining four matches. England’s vulnerability against quality spinners remains based on Wednesday’s showing. Kohli and India could be better served by backing their strength for the rest of the series unless England put up a green minefield at the other four venues.