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Gill and Siraj to debut in Boxing Day Test against Australia

India also named allrounder Ravindra Jadeja and wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant in their XI

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Shubman Gill bats in the nets at the MCG, Melbourne, December 24, 2020

Shubman Gill will make his Test debut at the MCG  •  AFP via Getty Images

Shubman Gill and Mohammed Siraj will debut for India in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG. Coming back into the side were allrounder Ravindra Jadeja and wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant. Gill replaced Prithvi Shaw at the top of the order while Siraj came in for the injured Mohammed Shami. In a bold move, India handed over the spot vacated by Virat Kohli to bowling allrounder Jadeja. Pant's first international match since the New Zealand tour meant Wriddhiman Saha's return to Tests outside Asia was short-lived.
The most striking of the four changes was the introduction of a fifth bowler - a second frontline spinner - to the attack. The only time both R Ashwin and Jadeja have played together outside Asia and the West Indies was Old Trafford 2014 as part of a five-man attack. The last time a team played two frontline spinners at MCG was India in 2007-08 when both Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh partnered left-arm quicks Zaheer Khan and RP Singh in the attack. Since 2000, fast bowlers have averaged 31 and spinners 44 at MCG. However, India have not picked the spinner at the expense of a fast bowler. It is more an acknowledgement that in the absence of both Ishant Sharma and Shami, they will need bowling back-up.
Jadeja would appear to be that reinforcement even though it leaves the batting thin. Having suffered a concussion and a hamstring injury in the first T20I, Jadeja recovered fully and bowled with intensity in the nets in the lead-up to the Test.
As a possible reinforcement for the now weakened batting, Pant replaced Saha, who was presumably selected as the more accomplished pure wicketkeeper for the pink ball, which was expected to do a lot. In recent years, India's trend has been to pick Saha when a lot of spin is expected to be bowled. With two spinners in the XI, you might make a case for Saha again, but India needed all the batting they could muster once they decided to play an extra bowler. Also Ashwin and Jadeja will not be expected to bowl as many overs as they do in India nor will they find the same assistance to potentially make life difficult for a wicketkeeper.
Shaw has played only five Tests over which he averages 42, but the consensus among experts and team management alike seems to be that he needs to tighten up his game if he has to play against good attacks in testing conditions. He was out bowled in the first and the fourth overs of the two innings in Adelaide. His replacement Gill opens for Punjab in the Ranji Trophy, and averages 69 at a strike-rate of 74 in first-class cricket.
Gill's fellow debutant Siraj had presented a persistent case for himself in the two warm-up games leading up to the Test. India's history with bowlers making their debuts in away Tests has been patchy with many before Jasprit Bumrah ending up playing only one Test or only a few.
However, Siraj is arguably better prepared than some of the others. Since 2015, Shahbaz Nadeem is the only bowler to play more matches for India A, 19, than Siraj's 16. That's 16 of his overall 38 first-class matches played at a higher level than the Ranji Trophy. In those games, he's taken 70 wickets at 21.88. Twelve of these matches were played in Australia, New Zealand, England, South Africa, and the West Indies for 44 wickets at 27.63.
The last time India handed out two or more debuts in the same away Test was back in 2011 when Kohli, Praveen Kumar and Abhinav Mukund debuted in the West Indies. The last time they made four changes to a side mid-series was when MS Dhoni made a surprising retirement decision mid-series in Australia.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo