'Extra spinner or extra pacer?' - India face major selection conundrum for No.8 spot ahead of WTC Final

Rohit Sharma and Co face the challenge of choosing the fourth bowling option 
WTC Final

The World Test Championship (WTC) final is scheduled to take place between India and Australia at the Kennington Oval in London from June 7 to 11. Both teams are currently in preparation mode for this highly anticipated clash. Australia finished first in the points table with 152 points, while India secured the second position with 127 points.

In fact, these two teams recently faced off in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in India, held in February-March of this year, just before the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2023. The hosts convincingly won the first two Tests, defeating Australia by an innings and 132 runs in Nagpur, and securing a six-wicket victory in the Delhi Test. Australia fought back commendably and won the third Test in Indore by nine wickets, while the final Test in Ahmedabad ended in a draw. Despite these results, India performed well enough to qualify for the WTC final.

India enters this upcoming clash against Australia with confidence, given their recent success against them. However, they face a key selection dilemma for the WTC final. Here's an overview of the situation.

India's captain Rohit Sharma and coach Rahul Dravid have some challenging decisions to make leading up to the marquee clash. With the pitch at the Oval still unknown, India is uncertain about their team combination for the World Test Championship final. Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, and Umesh Yadav are vying for the No. 8 position in the team.

A major selection headache for India is whether to include Umesh Yadav for his extra pace or opt for Shardul Thakur's all-round abilities to bolster the batting.

Umesh has had an inconsistent presence in the playing XI over the past few years and the emergence of Mohammed Siraj as an all-format bowler has further reduced his chances. Nevertheless, Umesh has performed reasonably well in the limited opportunities he has received as evidenced by his impressive figures of 3/12 in five overs in the first innings of the Indore Test against Australia earlier this year.

On the other hand, Thakur, who last played a red-ball game for India during the rescheduled Test in Birmingham against England last year had a forgettable performance with both the bat and ball, claiming only one wicket and scoring five runs. Thakur's form has dipped recently, raising doubts about his inclusion in the WTC final.

When India decides to go with just one spinner in overseas conditions, which is often the case, all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja tends to get the nod ahead of Ravichandran Ashwin. Leaving out Ashwin would be a tough call considering his significant contribution to India's journey to the WTC final.

However, based on current form, Jadeja has become an indispensable player, which means Ashwin might face the axe once again.

Alternatively, India has the option to field three pacers and two slow bowlers, allowing both Ashwin and Jadeja to be part of the playing XI in the WTC final.

Moreover, with the return of Ajinkya Rahane to the Indian side, the middle order will be bolstered alongside Ravindra Jadeja. Considering there are no left-handers in the Playing XI, Jadeja could potentially be promoted to the number five position. His remarkable century at Edgbaston during his previous visit to England adds weight to this decision. Consequently, Axar Patel is likely to be left on the sidelines despite his impressive performance during the Border Gavaskar Trophy, as his inclusion may not be suitable for foreign conditions.

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The challenge lies in choosing the fourth bowling option. With uncertain conditions at the Oval, India will need to make a decision regarding their playing combination in the coming days. If the pitch favors spin, Ravichandran Ashwin would be a suitable choice. However, if the conditions are more conducive to seam bowling, Umesh Yadav might be selected for the WTC Final. Additionally, if Rohit Sharma considers the left-arm pace factor, Jaydev Unadkat remains an option to be considered.

Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj are automatic choices for overseas matches. While Siraj and Shami lead the attack, Shardul Thakur can provide an additional seam bowling option while also strengthening the lower-order batting. As of now, KS Bharat is the preferred choice, but Ishan Kishan is also a viable option. The left-handed batsman from the Mumbai Indians is seen as a similar player to the injured Rishabh Pant and could potentially make his debut.

India Predicted XI: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, KS Bharat, Shardul Thakur, Ravi Ashwin / Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj

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