India in dilemma over Jadeja replacement
India are left gaping at a Ravindra Jadeja-sized hole after a shoulder strain ruled the allrounder out of the two-Test series against West Indies. The race to that spot - possibly a No. 6 batsman or a fifth bowler - is a three-way tie between Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and the extra bowler, which is likely to be Amit Mishra. MS Dhoni said on the eve of the match that the absence of Jadeja leaves them struggling to restore the balance of the Test XI, which won 4-0 against Australia earlier this year.
Jadeja was a specialist bowler on Indian pitches, and his batting ability down the order gave Dhoni the confidence to move up to No. 6. Now the team management has a dilemma. "The thing is, whether we want to go with four bowlers, or if we want that fifth one," Dhoni said. "Or do we want someone who can bowl a bit if needed? That is one major decision. The decision is one, but it is divided into three different aspects.
"If we go with five bowlers, both of them [Rohit and Rahane] may not play. If we say we need someone who can bowl a bit of offspin, Rohit plays. If we say we go with four specialist bowlers, and if needed we will look for someone else, Ajinkya will play. You'll have to wait and watch."
All this more or less reduces Rahane's chances in the tiebreaker. If India do decide to go with just the four specialist bowlers, you suspect Rohit's part-time offspin will earn him a Test debut. Not only that, his form in the recently concluded ODI series against Australia - where he scored a double-century, broke the record for most runs in a bilateral series and was the Man of the Series - should give him a lead over Mumbai team-mate Rahane.
Rohit already holds the record for having played the most ODIs without making Test debut. He was primed for that debut in 2009-10, but injured himself in the warm-up, minutes before the toss in Nagpur. Because India didn't have any back-up batsmen in that lopsided squad, wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha played that match as a specialist batsman.
Mishra, who last played a Test more than two years ago, is an outside chance to play as the third spinner. Not quite Jadeja with the bat, Mishra did score an 84 at The Oval and a double-century on a flat pitch in the Ranji Trophy last year. How Dhoni wishes he had Jadeja, though. Not least because Jadeja's accuracy gives him more control than Mishra will. Jadeja's quicker pace also gives him an edge over Mishra. And then there is the balance Jadeja provides.
"It has been a bit of a concern, and I've always said that," Dhoni said. "I have always said that we need a seam bowler who can bat a bit, or a frontline spinner who can bat. At times, you don't realise the importance of a particular player. People criticise individuals, but it's important to see what kind of impact he has when he's part of the team.
"Now that we don't have Jadeja, we're all thinking whether we should have that fifth bowler, or another spinner who can bat a bit or is it that the batting will become too thin. We will have to find someone. Jadeja is someone who can do that job, but it's good to have a Plan B or a Plan C. As of now we don't have too many who can do the job."
The other decision to be taken is which pace bowler will join Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the line-up. The team management might not be sure about Umesh Yadav, who has not played much top-flight cricket since his injury. Ishant Sharma has been going through a prolonged rough phase - he has an average of 60 since he last took more than three wickets in an innings, more than two years ago. That means you can't rule out a debut for the local man, Mohammed Shami.
"He is part of the Test side, so he is ready for Test cricket," Dhoni said when asked specifically if he felt Shami was ready. "He's shaping up really well. If you see the ODI performances, he has given us those breakthroughs with the new ball, which I feel with the rule changes is very important. He's also someone who bowls at a good pace and who's able to bowl good yorkers. Overall he looks very good, and we want to keep working with him so that he can improve his fitness further. [So] when he comes into Test cricket, he'll able to bowl those long spells, and he can come back and bowl at the same pace in the second or third spell."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo