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India's pink-ball conundrum: Kuldeep, Hardik, Siraj or Sundar?

Are India better off with a fast-bowling allrounder, a fast bowler, a wristspinner or a spin-bowling allrounder?

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Hardik Pandya sprints off in celebration, England v India, 4th Test, Ageas Bowl, 1st day, August 30, 2018

Hardik Pandya was seen practicing with the pink ball in Chennai  •  Getty Images

Test selections are never easy. You have to pick a team not only for the conditions at hand on the first day but what you anticipate to happen over the five full days. You also have to provide for losing the toss. You might, for instance in the second Chennai Test, expect that one fast bowler is plenty for the best part of the Test, but you still have to pick two to provide for losing the toss even if that means you are practically playing 10 players for all but two of the sessions.
Add to all this the uncertainty a day-night Test brings where the conditions can be a bit of a lottery. There might be dew one night but not another. Captains have a tough task of covering all bases when they hand over their XI to the match referee. It is a sign of India's strength that they need to debate only one place going into the day-night Test starting Wednesday in Ahmedabad. And that is the place occupied by Kuldeep Yadav in Chennai.
The other expected change is Jasprit Bumrah's return into the XI in Mohammed Siraj's place. The five batsmen who played in Chennai, Rishabh Pant as wicketkeeper and R Ashwin, Axar Patel, Ishant Sharma and Bumrah are certainties subject to last-minute fitness issues. Here are the options India have for the 11th spot. All of them have a reasonable case for selection.
Kuldeep himself
Kuldeep bowled just 12.2 overs in the second Test in Chennai, his first in more than two years. In both innings, he was the last man India went to, and he picked two wickets when the match was long over as a contest. With not much contribution expected from his bat, Kuldeep did seem like a luxury in that Test. However, he can only get into a better rhythm over time, and what works in his favour is the constant feedback from domestic cricketers who have played pink-ball cricket in India that wristspinners are difficult to pick in the night.
Mohammed Siraj
As a second specialist quick, Siraj bowled only eight overs in the Chennai Test for one wicket, but if the conditions - you need to leave extra grass for the pink ball to last - ask for it, India might need three fast bowlers in the side. Siraj, Bumrah and Ishant along with two spinners is the closest India will get to their winning combination in Melbourne. Axar is the closest you can get to Ravindra Jadeja: an accurate fingerspinner who doesn't give batsmen time to adjust, and someone with promise with the bat. If conditions ask for a third seamer, Siraj is the frontrunner.
Umesh Yadav has had an excellent record in home Tests of late, and he is back with the squad, but since he is coming fresh off an injury it remains to be seen if India will feel confident enough to draft him straight into an XI.
Hardik Pandya
Those present at the Chennai Test say Pandya has been bowling with the pink ball in the nets. If India feel they need their fifth bowler for six-seven overs a day at best and they also need batting depth to cover for pink-ball vagaries, don't be surprised if Pandya makes his return to Test cricket after an absence of two-and-a-half years.
Washington Sundar
The other man who spent a lot of time with the pink ball in the nets in Chennai is Washington Sundar. And here are Rohit Sharma's expectations from the Ahmedabad pitch: "I don't see anything change [from Chennai]. However it played in the second Test, it's going to be similar. It'll turn. We're preparing accordingly for that, let's see when the day comes. It's been a while since international cricket was played here, we'll see how it goes."
Also, the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy matches in Ahmedabad were spin-dominated. If that continues to be the case, an accurate and quick fingerspinner who can also provide lower-order runs might not be a bad option for a fifth bowler.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo