India might have gone into the Perth Test without a spinner even if R Ashwin had been fit, their captain Virat Kohli has said.
Ashwin was ruled out of the game with a side strain, and India, rather than replacing him with Ravindra Jadeja, the other spinner in their 13-man squad for the Test, went ahead with a four-man pace attack. Australia stuck with their 3-1 combination and their spinner Nathan Lyon won the Man-of-the-Match award for his eight wickets.
These events were somewhat similar to those of the Adelaide Test on the 2014-15 tour - Kohli's first Test as captain - when India had played the rookie legspinner Karn Sharma, who leaked runs with little success, and Lyon had taken 12 wickets.
India's selection came in for sharp criticism, but Kohli defended it, saying the pitch had played exactly how the team management had expected it to.
"Yes, we could have considered that (playing four quicks)," Kohli said, when asked if Ashwin would have played had he been fit. "If you see, the rough didn't have much assistance. It was just the pace on the ball that Lyon bowled that he got the wickets that he got.
"We as a team didn't want to think that we definitely wanted to consider a spinning option on this pitch, especially having a look at the pitch on day one and how we thought it would play on the first three days, and exactly played out that way. We thought a fast bowler is going to be more productive and more helpful for us as a team."
The choice of the fourth fast bowler was also contentious, with Umesh Yadav getting a go ahead of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who is usually considered an automatic pick on well-grassed pitches. Kohli said Bhuvneshwar lost out because he had not played much four-day cricket of late.
"Bhuvi hasn't played a lot of four-day cricket recently, and Umesh took 10 wickets in his last Test (against West Indies in Hyderabad), and was in good bowling rhythm. So that was the reason behind picking Umesh over Bhuvi."
Bhuvneshwar's last first-class match was in Johannesburg, nearly 11 months ago. In England, he aggravated a lower-back injury during the ODI series, and was ruled out of the Test series in the same country, where conditions are considered to be ideal for him to bowl in. He was then rested for the home Tests against West Indies.
One of the reasons Bhuvneshwar was missed was his batting. Even in Johannesburg, on a pitch that just escaped being labelled dangerous, he scored 30 and 33 out of India's totals of 187 and 247. India have often spoken of lower-order runs as one of the major contributing factors to their Test success, and this was the case just last week in Adelaide, where Ashwin scored 25 in a crucial 62-run stand for the seventh wicket. In Perth, India's Nos. 8 to 11 only contributed 11 runs between them across both innings.
"You obviously have two situations that you can think of," Kohli said. "When you pick another fast bowler, obviously Ashwin or Ravindra Jadeja have more ability with the bat, we all know that. It's a very tricky decision to make, what kind of a bowling option you want to go with or you want to think that that guy can contribute with the bat as well.
"So eventually you come to one decision, and we back that decision and went ahead with it. Whether it comes off or not, that's a different thing, but we were totally convinced in the team that that was our best combination to go with, and the batsmen have to take responsibility. There are lots of variables that can happen during the course of a cricket match but before that, you need to have clarity as to what you want to do. And as a side, we were totally clear that this was the combination we wanted to go with."
The preferred option, Umesh, ended the match with figures of 2 for 139 from 37 overs and consolidated his reputation as a bowler much better suited to Indian conditions where he has reverse-swing to work with. Umesh's economy rate of 3.75 had two knock-on effects: the part-time spinners bowled 29 overs, and the other three quicks had to keep coming back for spells when they may not have been at their freshest.
Kohli was, however, happy with the fast bowlers' performance overall.
"Especially yesterday, the first session, giving away only 56-odd runs without getting a wicket," Kohli said, when asked if he was satisfied with the control he had on the game, in the absence of a spinner. "I think it was outstanding bowling, and obviously [Mohammed] Shami did what he did in the next session with the ball (he took six wickets in the second innings), which was again wonderful to see. So, yeah. I think they executed their plans to 95% of what we expected.
"I think you definitely can be happy with that. In the past when we have played four quicks, we definitely haven't been as consistent as we were in this game. So, I think they were pretty accurate, pretty consistent, and as I said we were pretty convinced about going in with four fast bowlers looking at the conditions. I think they did pretty well."