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How do India approach the WTC final without Bumrah and other questions

Has Gill sealed a permanent place? And what about life after Ashwin and Jadeja

India were expected to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and they met those expectations, but few would have imagined they'd be pushed as hard as they were by an Australia side that lacked Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Cameron Green and David Warner during large parts of the series and Josh Hazlewood through all of it. Having gotten through that experience, India are now set to face Australia again in the World Test Championship final at The Oval in June. It promises to be a cracker, but before they get there, here are five questions they can ponder on in the short and long term.

How do India approach the WTC final without Bumrah?

India won't play three spinners at The Oval, but they may seriously consider playing two. They played both Ashwin and Jadeja during the 2021 final in Southampton, as part of a 3-2 combination, and it didn't quite work. Ashwin bowled beautifully, and was perhaps India's best bowler in that game, but Jadeja went under-bowled, and New Zealand's victory in overcast, seaming conditions was in large part down to their depth of seam options - they had four genuine quicks plus the medium-fast accuracy of Colin de Grandhomme, while India only had three fast bowlers.
India played a five-Test series in England after that - spread over two tours - and never picked a 3-2 attack again. They went 4-1 in all five Tests, leaving out Ashwin and preferring Jadeja for being the better batter of the two.
India drew that series 2-2 with that 4-1 attack, and they will probably want to stick to that combination at The Oval unless conditions seem unusually spin-friendly - an unlikely event in June. But India will be without Jasprit Bumrah, their pace spearhead. In his absence, India may find it hard to pick a four-man seam attack that offers the relentless control that won them Tests at Lord's and The Oval in 2021.
Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj will probably be the first-choice new-ball pair, if both are fit, while Umesh Yadav, Shardul Thakur and Jaydev Unadkat are the other pace options who could realistically be on that flight to the UK. Hardik Pandya, who last played a Test match in 2018, could be a left-field choice too, as the allrounder who can fill in as fourth seamer. But the first three names mentioned above didn't bowl too many overs through the Border-Gavaskar series, with the spinners doing the bulk of the work, and the other three didn't feature at all.
Between now and the WTC final, India's players will play no competitive red-ball cricket, with most of them set to get through a busy IPL season.
Given this, it's hard to see how India will assemble a four-man pace attack whose rhythm they can be confident of. There's a chance, therefore, that they could go 3-2 again, and trust Ashwin and Jadeja to give them control even in conditions not ideally suited to their bowling.

Is KS Bharat the right back-up for Rishabh Pant?

Bharat began his debut series impressively behind the stumps, particularly while standing up to spin, but as the series progressed he began looking less assured. The new ball wobbled after passing the stumps on the first morning in Ahmedabad - a frequent scourge of overseas wicketkeepers touring England - and he struggled to cope with it, and put down a catch off Travis Head.
Mistakes began to creep into his keeping against spin as well, particularly against edges travelling to his right, which often tended to miss his gloves and hit his right leg. On TV commentary, Dinesh Karthik - veteran of 26 Tests, 94 ODIs and 60 T20Is for India - suggested that this particular issue was down to Bharat's right foot being his anchor foot - keepers are advised to use their left foot as anchor, to be able to move quickly to their right, which is where they can expect to collect the ball most often. This also perhaps explained why Bharat was often so impressive while collecting the ball down the leg side of right-hand batters - his catch off a gloved sweep from Green, in Ahmedabad, was remarkable for how far he moved to get into position.
As the series progressed, Bharat seemed to gain confidence with the bat - or stayed in long enough to show how much talent he has. The unbeaten 23 in India's chase in Delhi and the 44 in Ahmedabad were both bright and enterprising cameos full of attacking strokeplay - his back-to-back pulled sixes off Green in the latter innings were particularly eye-catching - and India have reason to believe he can hold his own with the bat.
The keeping could be more of a worry, but Karthik's comments suggested his issues were technical and fixable.
No team can fully replace Rishabh Pant, but India have invested plenty of faith in Bharat, and it's likely that they'll see his mixed debut series as a learning curve, and continue to believe he has a higher ceiling that he can reach with smart work behind the scenes.

Has Shubman Gill sealed a permanent slot in the Test XI?


There seems to be no end to Gill's insatiable hunger for hundreds. He's now scored five in his last 10 innings for India. It almost felt inevitable that he'd get to three-figures when India began their innings in Ahmedabad, but a lot of that feeling was down to how true and easy-paced the pitch was. The other four hundreds Gill has scored in this remarkable stretch have all come on white-ball surfaces, which tend to be considerably flatter than Test pitches.
That takes nothing away from Gill's achievement, of course. But it's important for fans to understand that this sort of form can't go on forever - unless Gill turns out to be the reincarnation of Don Bradman - and that he, like any other batter, could make a run of low scores if India play their next few Test matches on challenging pitches.
This is why India gave KL Rahul a long run in the side before they replaced him with Gill, and it's also why they'll likely give Gill a long run too. He will face plenty of hurdles as his career moves forward - seaming pitches in England could potentially prove his biggest challenge, given that his game seems ideally suited for hard pitches and back-foot play - but India know he's a special talent and will back him to find a way to score runs in all conditions.

Who after Ashwin and Jadeja?

They have 738 Test wickets between them, and they dominated the wicket charts to such an extent during the Border-Gavaskar Trophy that the adjudicators decided to jointly award them the Player of the Series trophy. Oh, and they're both genuine allrounders too, particularly in Indian conditions.
R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are irreplaceable, but they're also 36 and 34, and it's almost impossible to see how India will replace them when the time comes.
Rohit Sharma was asked this during his post-match press conference in Ahmedabad - whether he felt the two would still be around when India next host Australia for a Test series in four years' time.
"I don't know, honestly, if they'll be around," he said. "I don't know if I'll be around. But no, four years is a long time. For the sake of Indian cricket I hope they stay and they play a lot of cricket for India. Honestly, both of them are marathon players for us. They know exactly how to get the job done, especially in this part of the world.
"You give them the ball, they get you those breakthroughs. With the bat they get you crucial runs. Very very important players for us. Where we stand today in terms of how we've performed, especially in Indian conditions, the credit goes to them. A large part of our success belongs to those two guys, obviously because it's not just for a period of few years but it's over a decade now.
"It's a long long time to keep performing in the way these two guys have done for us, and I can only hope that they continue to play as long as possible, because those shoes will definitely be very very big ones to fill."
Ashwin took 25 wickets at an average of 17.28 over the four Tests against Australia, and Jadeja 22 at 18.86. They also made crucial runs in difficult conditions, with Jadeja scoring 70 during India's only innings in Nagpur and Ashwin contributing 37 to a lower-order rearguard in Delhi, where he and Axar Patel rescued India after they were 139 for 7 in response to Australia's first-innings total of 263.
Happily for India, they're both bowling as well as ever - Jadeja's bowling form seemed to tail off somewhat as the series went on, but it may possibly have been down to his having returned to action only recently after undergoing knee surgery - and they don't need to answer that big question yet.
And as much as its important for teams to plan how they handle transitions, they can't be micromanaged, and they often take place in unexpected ways. Ashwin came to Test cricket with a bowling average of 28.12 and a strike rate of 63.3 after 34 first-class matches. He was viewed as highly promising, but no one could have imagined he'd go on to be one of India's all-time greats.
Likewise with Jadeja, who many viewed as a bits-and-pieces white-ball specialist when he made his Test debut in 2012-13, his bowling seen as accurate but limited and his batting achievements in first-class cricket - including three triple-hundreds - viewed with suspicion. Look where he is now.
It's possible that India will struggle for years to replace Ashwin and Jadeja. But it didn't take them all that long to replace Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, and there was no grand plan as to how that happened.

What next for Axar Patel?

The foremost candidate to partially answer the previous question is, of course, Axar, who is in some ways a Jadeja clone. He was India's second-highest run-getter during the Australia series, and while his bowling fell well short of pre-series expectations both in terms of volume and potency, he seemed to find some rhythm when he got a chance to bowl longer spells on the flat deck in Ahmedabad. His dismissal of Head on the final day was one of the balls of the series, drifting away from the left-hander before spinning back sharply off the footmarks to bowl him through the gate.
Axar looks, in every way, a long-term prospect, and while 29 isn't young in cricket terms, it's young enough for a spinner to enjoy a long career.
In the immediate term, though, his bigger worry is about featuring in India's XI overseas. Whatever the conditions are at The Oval in June, they're unlikely to be of the sort that gets teams thinking of three spinners. He'll probably be part of India's squad, though, and he'll keep working hard with both bat and ball to remind the team management that he can do a job if needed.
To get to a stage where he becomes a candidate for the first XI in all conditions, however, there's one thing he can work on. At present, his biggest threat comes from his unusual trajectory and exaggerated angle into the right-hand batter. If he can work on his stock ball so it turns sharply more often than it currently does, he'll make batters worry about both edges rather than just one, and that'll make him an incredibly potent bowler.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo