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A bold move or a mistake? India hurt by twin-spin attack

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What went wrong for India's spinners? (3:26)

VVS Laxman and Ravi Bopara discuss where Ravi Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav struggled during the third day of the second Test against England at Lord's (3:26)

Deciding the final XI is never an easy decision for Test captains. Especially when you want to wait until you have felt the pitch on the morning of the match. Like Virat Kohli did on Friday, the second day of the second Test.

On the eve of this Test, Kohli said he was tempted to play two spinners keeping in mind the conditions. The conditions on the first two days were overcast and rainy with the opening day's play washed out. Although Saturday remained dry, starting on a bright note, from the second session onwards it was all overcast and nippy. The forecast for Sunday is again for wet weather, and, on Monday, it might be dry but on the cooler side.

Yet Kohli was thinking of playing two spinners. It's uncertain whether it was a different forecast he was given or whether he saw something in the pitch that made him make up his mind. At the toss Kohli revealed India were fielding two spinners with Kuldeep Yadav replacing a seamer, Umesh Yadav. Already that decision has come to hurt India.

R Ashwin and Kuldeep have so far gone wicketless. If there was any impact that the two created, just like Adil Rashid failing to sight the ball sailing over his head at mid-on on Friday, we could not locate it.

Kuldeep was tossed the ball about noon, an hour into the morning session. Playing his first Test in England, his first with the Duke ball, it was understandable he would take time to adjust and bring his variations into play as a left-arm wrist spinner. But England had their own plan for him. As Ollie Pope and Joe Root, and later Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes, made it clear, they were going to attack Kuldeep.

Kuldeep might not have been surprised by England's thinking. But he would have been disappointed with himself as he bowled flat or short and by the end of the day he was delivering full tosses that Bairstow and Woakes happily slapped for to the boundary.

Kuldeep had been picked in the India squad for being the X-factor. Being the wrist spinner who could turn the ball in and away from the bat, and with an attacking mindset, both the team think tank and the selectors felt Kuldeep would be an important weapon against England batsmen who are vulnerable to good spin like anybody. However, England easily solved the Kuldeep mystery by defending and attacking.

What also played into England's hands was Kohli bowled Kuldeep for shorter spells. Unlike Ashwin who bowled 17 overs in the day spread across two long stints and one over in the third, Kuldeep bowled three spells.

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More baffling was Ashwin's delayed entry. Initially, as Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami scattered their lengths and lines in the first half a dozen overs, Ashwin might have imagined Kohli would throw the new ball to him any minute. He stood there, in expectation, stretching his arms. The call never came.

By the time it did come, England had already surpassed India and were sitting on a lead of 50. It was the 39th over. India were ridiculously behind the over rate and one could be forgiven to think that their best bowler at Edgbaston was being brought in to hurry things up.

Like Kuldeep, Ashwin, too, remained largely ineffective. Although Ashwin found more drift, there was not much turn off the wicket and the ball had softened a fair bit. In both innings at Edgbaston, Kohli had given the new ball to Ashwin, who created immediate pressure.

But it would be harsh to put the blame entirely on the spinners. The conditions after lunch were more in favour of the seamers. But Kohli could not stretch Ishant and Shami too much. The other strategy of operating spin from both ends lasted just four overs: between overs 43-47 when Kuldeep joined Ashwin - 18 runs and a maiden came in the brief period.

Fifteen out of the 16 wickets that have fallen on the first two days have gone to the seamers. The fact that Shami (three), Hardik Pandya (two) and Ishant (one) were the wicket-takers was a clear indication of the seamer-friendly conditions. Umesh, who can hit speeds in high 80s consistently, and can swing the ball, was instead taking batting practice at lunch.

On Friday morning, all three India coaching staff - Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Bangar and Bharat Arun - inspected the pitch, pressed it with their palms on both ends before Kohli carried out his own inspection. On that evidence we could possibly conclude that the decision to go with just two specialist fast bowlers was not an instinctive one.

Pandya insisted some thought was applied and the decision was a "correct" one. "They [the team management] had some thought behind it, but I don't want to get too much into that," Pandya said. "Three [fast bowlers] was enough to be honest. We did enough, we bowled properly, we gave whatever effort we had to give. It was a proper call."

He felt the spinners would have come into play had this been a five-day Test. Well, that it was not going to be one was clear before toss yesterday. "If this was a five-day game the spinners would have come into use, but because of the rain and everything it became short and there were not many footmarks and [the ball] was not gripping that much. But if this was a five-day game things would have been different." England went to sleep on Saturday with a lead of a 250-runs. It seems highly unlikely that England will need a significant score in their second innings. What is also clear is this: Kohli and India were bold by playing two spinners. Whether it was sensible move or not is anyone's guess.