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Feature

India's XI for Chennai Test: Four bowlers or five? Who will replace Ravindra Jadeja?

Also, will Rishabh Pant continue to keep wickets?

With Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah returning, will Mohammed Siraj keep his spot in the XI?  •  Getty Images

With Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah returning, will Mohammed Siraj keep his spot in the XI?  •  Getty Images

Virat Kohli is back, and so are Ishant Sharma, R Ashwin, and Jasprit Bumrah. After the exhilarating anarchy of the Gabba, a far more familiar-looking India XI will line up for the first Test against England in Chennai. If everyone is fit and ready, as many as nine members of their XI are certainties. But the other two spots will be hotly contested - by as many as eight candidates. Here are all the permutations and combinations India might mull over.
Four bowlers or five?
Bumrah, Ishant and Ashwin pick themselves barring any last-minute injuries. This leaves India with the question of which bowler - or bowlers - partner them. There are signs that the pitch at the MA Chidambaram Stadium could have a decent cover of grass, and this could induce India to pick a third fast bowler. If they do, Mohammed Siraj is the clear frontrunner for the role.
Picking Siraj would leave India with three fast bowlers who don't offer too much ability with the bat. It wouldn't be an issue if they played only four bowlers, but India have preferred playing five of late. They played five bowlers in their last three Tests in Australia, as well as in each of their last four home Tests, back in the 2019-20 season.
Playing five bowlers, however, could restrict the choice of their second spinner. Kuldeep Yadav missed out on selection in Australia chiefly for this reason, and as tempting an option as he is in home conditions, India will not want to lengthen their tail unduly. The left-arm wristspinner is likeliest to play, therefore, if India decide two fast bowlers are enough, and go with either two fast bowlers and two spinners, or two fast bowlers, two spinners, and an allrounder.
Sundar, Patel or Thakur?
The absence of Ravindra Jadeja leaves India with perhaps their biggest selection headache ahead of the first Test. Washington Sundar and Axar Patel are nominally like-for-like replacements, but the player they're hoping to replace is arguably the best allrounder in the world. No one who's played at least 20 Tests since the start of 2016 has a bigger difference between their bowling and batting averages than Jadeja's 21.70.
Sundar showed plenty of skill with the bat and a fair degree of control with the ball during his debut at the Gabba, but to play the spin-bowling allrounder's role in India, he'll have to maintain that control over significantly more overs, and over longer spells. His lack of first-class experience - his last red-ball game before the Brisbane Test came in November 2017 - might count against him, as might his style of bowling. Despite the possibility of England's top seven containing as many as three left-handers, India might not want two offspinners in their attack.
Patel has more first-class experience than Sundar, and his record - 1665 runs at 35.42 and 134 wickets at 27.38 - as well as the fact that he bowls left-arm orthodox are points in his favour. He is yet to play Test cricket, however, and India won't leave Sundar out easily given the key role he played in their Gabba win.
Another newbie who contributed heavily at the Gabba was Shardul Thakur, who offers an intriguing third option for the allrounder's slot. Thakur is more of a bowling allrounder than Sundar or Patel, but playing him would allow India to go in with three quicks as well as both Ashwin and Kuldeep. Siraj is the likeliest bowler to miss out in this scenario.
Hardik Pandya, who's also part of India's squad, could have allowed them to play a roughly similar combination, but it's not yet clear when he'll be ready to assume a full bowling workload. He has only bowled once - four overs in the second ODI against Australia in Sydney - in his last 20 games across first-class, List A and T20 cricket, and he has said his return to bowling regularly will be a slow process.
Will Pant keep wickets?
Rishabh Pant's fourth-innings heroics in Sydney and Brisbane have most likely sealed his spot, but will he keep wickets or play as a specialist batsman? As impressive as Pant was with the bat in Australia, the rough edges in his keeping were still apparent, especially against spin, and there'll be a lot of spin bowling to negotiate when he keeps in India. It's not clear yet how much India trust his ability standing up to the stumps, but it's also unclear how he'll improve if he isn't doing it regularly in red-ball cricket.
In the end, the answer to that question might depend on India's combination. If they play five bowlers, there's probably no room in the side for Wriddhiman Saha, especially without Jadeja's proven quality in the allrounder's slot. If India play four bowlers, there's a chance both Pant and Saha may play.
This leaves one final combination: six specialist batsmen, Pant as wicketkeeper, and four bowlers. India will probably only pick a sixth batsman if they think conditions will be heavily bowler-friendly, in which case Pandya or Mayank Agarwal could slot into the XI.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo