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05.09.2018  Author: C.NAMASIVAYAM

It is back to square one for Team India. The Test series against England is already done and dusted. India suffered a 60-run defeat against England in the fourth Test at the Ageas Bowl. England sealed the five-match series 3-1 but even if they win the last Test match at the Oval, they cannot displace India from the No 1 position in the ICC Test rankings.

Having lost the series already and keeping in mind the future, Team India should experiment with their playing XI for the inconsequential fifth Test at the Oval cricket ground in London.

Players who deserve to be retained

After evaluating the performance of all the eleven players who played the fourth Test, only 6 players deserve to be retained for the fifth Test. The three fast bowlers Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami all bowled their heart out without much luck.

The other three are the three middle-order batsmen Pujara, Kohli, and Rahane. But for their performance, the match could have been over in three days. Pujara's unbeaten century in the first innings helped India to take the first innings lead. Kohli, as always, was consistent. During the century partnership between Kohli and Rahane in the second innings, India would have fancied their chances of a win before it all came crashing down.

Players who deserve to be dropped

The five players who must be dropped are the openers; Shikhar Dhawan and K.L. Rahul, wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant, all-rounder Hardik Pandya and off-spinner R. Ashwin. On the grounds of his deplorable performance in the series, Ashwin ought to be dropped without any hesitation. Ashwin's inability to land the ball on the rough created by Ishant Sharma's follow-through cost India the fourth Test match. While Moeen Ali was consistent in bowling on the rough area of the wicket, Ashwin had only one wicket to show in his second innings bowling effort of 37 overs. He failed to exploit the sub-continental conditions in the fourth Test.

To make matters worse, in India's first innings, Ashwin tried a horrendous reverse sweep and played on to his stumps. He had no business to attempt that reverse sweep at that stage especially when Pujara was at the other end looking solid.

In spite of his appalling performances in the recent past, Ashwin might escape the axe for three reasons.

1. There is no other better option available in the squad.

2. The England batting order should once again comprise of 7 left-handers for the fifth Test. In theory, Ashwin is expected to be more effective against these left-handers as an off-spinner. It is another matter whether he will live up to that expectation.

3. The fifth Test will be played at the Oval Cricket Ground, London. The Oval wicket traditionally has been a slow wicket assisting the spinners and India would look to include two spinners in the playing eleven.

Ashwin should retain his place in the team for the fifth Test.

The four changes

1. Prithvi Shaw for K.L. Rahul

K.L. Rahul has been a total disappointment throughout the series. His only contribution to the team came as a slip fielder. In the current England series, Rahul has scored just 113 runs in 8 innings at an average of 14.12 with the highest score of 36 runs. He should have been sent home along with his opening partner Murali Vijay. He has been consistently inconsistent.

Rahul should be replaced by the newcomer Prithvi Shaw who would certainly benefit from the experience of playing in England.

2. Karun Nair for Shikhar Dhawan

Shikhar Dhawan's very inclusion in the squad for the tour of England was more out of hope than conviction. As expected by many, he failed to deliver in demanding English conditions. Karun Nair should take Dhawan's place.

Nair scored a triple hundred in his third Test against England in Chennai. In that Chennai Test, India were 260 runs behind when Nair came into bat but had a lead of 282 by the time they declared. Such was the impact of Nair's innings against the same opposition.

At present, the Indian middle-order and lower-order after Rahane is virtually non-existent. Once England bowlers are through Kohli and Rahane, they can slice through the rest of the batting in no time. Nair's presence in the middle-order after Kohli and Rahane should give the team the much-needed solidity and cover.

3. Dinesh Karthik for Rishabh Pant

Rishabh Pant was fast-tracked into Test Cricket on the basis of his IPL performances. The injury to Saha helped his cause. After watching him perform in his first two Test matches, one gets the feeling that he has still not matured into a Test match player. His wicket-keeping in the first innings of the fourth Test was below par. His leg side collection to left-handers was awful as he predominately positioned himself on the off-side behind the wickets. This technical flaw restricted his reach on the leg-side.

In India's first innings in the fourth Test, Pant conceded 23 byes. With a better technique, at the very least, Pant could have stopped some of those from going past him. A total of 30 byes in the match was far too many in a low-scoring game.

While batting, Pant was a strokeless wonder in the first innings when he got out for a 29 ball duck. In the second innings, he was swinging at everything and got himself out for a 12 ball 18. His manner of dismissal in the second innings gave the impression that he is not yet ready for Test cricket.

Dinesh Karthik should come in place of Rishabh Pant for the fourth Test. Dinesh Karthik has not exactly set the Thames on fire. But he should be given one final chance in a Test match to prove his mettle. After the retirement of Dhoni from Test cricket, the only viable option left for Team India is Wriddhiman Saha. Since he is unavailable, Karthik should be tried.

Besides, with the exit of the two regular openers Rahul and Dhawan, Karthik could open the batting with Prithvi Shaw. Karthik was the regular opener in India's tour of England in 2007. With a total of 263 runs, he was the highest scorer in that series for India. India won that series 1-0 and it was their first series win in England since 1986.

4. Ravindra Jadeja for Hardik Pandya

Hardik Pandya has a long way to go to qualify himself as a Test match all-rounder. He may hold his place purely on his batting ability on sub-continental pitches. But when it comes to alien conditions, he is neither a useful batsman nor an effective bowler. For the fifth Test, Hardik Pandya should be replaced by another all-rounder, Ravindra Jadeja.

As the Oval wicket is expected to assist the spinners, Ravindra Jadeja should come into play. He is a useful late-order batsman and a terrific fielder. The team management is not clear about the role of Ravindra Jadeja, especially on overseas tours. He is benched for the overseas Test matches and is denied a place in the one day and T20 teams. At this rate, we will find him playing only in IPL. The Oval Test is one big opportunity for Jadeja to jog the memory of the selectors and remind them of his ability and flair.

Reasons for the changes in the team

The Indians have got nothing to lose in the final Test, except, of course, pride. Even the first position in ICC Test rankings is well secured for now. The team management can make use of this opportunity to blood young talent like Prithvi Shaw and Karun Nair.

The likely Playing XI for Team India:
1. Prithvi Shaw
2. Dinesh Karthik
3. Cheteshwar Pujara
4. Virat Kohli
5. Ajinkya Rahane
6. Karun Nair
7. Ravichandran Ashwin
8. Ravindra Jadeja
9. Mohammed Shami
10. Ishant Sharma and
11. Jasprit Bumrah