<
>

Will India play an extra batsman in the second Test?

play
The less Pandya bowls, the better for India - Arun (0:47)

India bowling coach Bharat Arun hopes their attack go well enough at Lord's to not need the services of Hardik Pandya (0:47)

On the eve of the first Test at Edgbaston, both KL Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara inspected the pitch at opposite ends, one after the other. Rahul bowed to the pitch and touched his heart, an Indian form of paying obeisance to things sacred. Pujara pressed his palm to inspect the hardness. At that point both men were in contention for a berth in the Indian top order. The next day, Pujara shook Rahul's hands to congratulate him for getting into the team while he himself sat out.

Two days out from the second Test, it will not be so fanciful to think both men will play at Lord's. Only because the one glaring weakness that got exposed for India was their weak batting outside of Virat Kohli, who scored 200 runs alone while the rest of the 10 men managed only 214.

But why pick Pujara after his poor form in county cricket that adds no weightage to his selection? Look at this way: Pujara has more county experience than anyone in India's batting line-up and understands the conditions better than anybody. Yes, runs and form are good metrics to measure the worth, but experience also counts.

The Lord's pitch has a screen of faint green across the length. Although London was burning on Tuesday morning after a heatwave in the preceding days, the forecast for the first four days of the match is for cooler temperatures in the early twenties with the odd shower. In that case, the idea of playing two spinners might not materialise.

If Pujara does play, whom does he come in for? Maybe Hardik Pandya, who has always been picked as a batting allrounder. Even at Edgbaston, Pandya bowled 10 overs in the first innings and did not bowl in the second at all. In the four Tests Pandya has played overseas this year, he has bowled 61 overs and has taken just three wickets at an average of nearly 70 and strike rate of 122. Is that a strong enough contribution from an allrounder?

Asked if India would consider playing an extra batsman at Lord's, their bowling coach Bharat Arun did not give a conclusive answer. "Playing an extra batsman here, I would consider that as a very conservative move," he said at a media conference. "Everything depends on the conditions. And if the conditions are not as friendly as it was during the first Test it would make more sense to play five bowlers."

But is it really that conservative? By playing an extra batsman you are reinforcing your batting department, your weak area. You are also not chopping and changing constantly, giving the batsmen more security about their spots. Shikhar Dhawan, Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane would have been disappointed by the way they were out at least once at Edgbaston, but being the first match of the series, they can be given more chances.

At the same time, India cannot afford to wait for too long for them to strike form. They need to secure the batting order and Pujara offers them that option. As for the question of where Pujara could bat, he could come in at No. 5 or 6 and face the second new ball, or Rahul could be pushed down the order and Pujara could take his usual No. 3 spot. After all, India head coach Ravi Shastri told ESPNcricinfo during the Essex match to be ready for "surprises", saying the Indian middle order would be flexible.

The question is, will India be "conservative" and flexible? Or will they stick to status quo?