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It's scary that India are a highly successful side who can still improve

A middle order of Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya and R Ashwin would boost the team even more

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
India's selectors need to find a way to tweak the middle order to fit in R Ashwin  •  AFP / Getty Images

India's selectors need to find a way to tweak the middle order to fit in R Ashwin  •  AFP / Getty Images

There's no doubt that India are a very good all-round team. They have conclusively proved it by winning consecutive series in Australia and now having had success in England, albeit Covid-affected, while they are virtually unbeatable at home.
However, that isn't to say they can't improve. That's how good teams remain at or near the top - by constantly searching for ways to be better. Herbie Collins, a shrewd Australian captain of the 1920s, reckoned the most important aspect of selection was finding the right combination.
India's best combination includes R Ashwin. He is a fine bowler under all conditions, as he proved in Australia, so India need to find a way to fit him into the XI. In trying to find a balance between the right- and left-hand batters in the middle order at The Oval, they may have inadvertently stumbled on the solution - Ravindra Jadeja at No. 5. If Jadeja proves good enough to hold down that spot in the order, the other piece required to complete the puzzle is a seam-bowling allrounder. The ideal player would be a fully fit Hardik Pandya, but they do have a second choice in Shardul Thakur.
That is the great strength of this Indian side. They have substantial depth.
A middle order that reads Jadeja, Rishabh Pant, Pandya and Ashwin should provide the runs expected of that section. With three fast bowlers to follow, the batting is then supported by a versatile attack. That's the advantage of having a strong, well-balanced attack - you don't need huge scores to chase victory.
The simplest equation for winning Test matches is for the batters to score quickly in order to give the bowlers enough time to take 20 wickets.
The other good point about that middle order is that it's interchangeable. Skill-wise, Pant is the best batter of that lot. He's capable of restraint when the situation demands, so he could easily handle No. 5, especially when India bat first. However if he's had a long stint in the field, he could slide down the order to allow Jadeja to come in at five. Pandya also has the potential to handle No. 5, and given encouragement, he could fulfil the role.
Another attribute of that trio is their powerful strokeplay. The ability to accelerate the scoring rate is essential in Test cricket and those three are an ideal combination to take advantage of a good start to the innings. They are also a perfect fit for situations where the team is either chasing or setting a target.
The only downside would be the loss of Ajinkya Rahane's tactical input and his slip fielding to the spinners. Nevertheless Rohit Sharma is now an acclaimed captain and he's capable of handling the vice-captaincy role.
On the subject of slip fielding, this is one aspect of England's selection process that is definitely flawed. They are besotted with having a wicketkeeper who can bat, and in doing so they have overlooked that slip-fielding standards tend to imitate the form of the man with the gloves.
The recent batting contributions from Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow don't compensate for their below-par glove work. If Ben Foakes is the best keeper, he should play. He's no slouch with the bat, and his greater range standing back will help widen the slip cordon and lift the standard. The return of Ben Stokes will also greatly improve the standard of slip catching, which, in turn, helps make the attack better.
The art of good selection is to be constantly looking for ways to make even a top-class team better. The priority is always to win the next match, but this should be achieved with one eye on the future.
Tweaking the Indian middle order to accommodate the skills of Ashwin should be a priority for the selectors. It's a scary thought for the other Test sides that Virat Kohli's highly successful team can be improved.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist