India's Defensive Strategy - Fields Two Spinners against NZ

- Rishabh Sharma   23-09-2016


In what seems to be a surprising decision, Indian test skipper Virat Kohli has opted to field just two spinners against New Zealand in the first test of the three match bilateral series. It is more surprising since Kiwis have opted to play three spinners in the match while India has fielded only Ashwin and Jadeja. Mitch Santner leads the pack with Ish Sodhi and Mark Craig being the other two spinners. The decision to keep Amit Mishra out and playing an extra batsman seems to be an unlikely, defensive strategy from Captain Kohli who is known for his firebrand form of cricket.

The inclusion of Rohit Sharma as the sixth specialist batsman makes no sense since India already has two good lower order batsmen in Ashwin and Jadeja. With Wriddhiman Saha too coming back in form with a fine century against West Indies last month, India now enters with 9 known batsmen in the game.

It is baffling to see Rohit being given so many chances despite his consistent failure in the longer format of the game. He even played for India Blue in the Duleep Trophy Finals this month, in a desperate attempt to assure his place in the test squad. But he managed to score a paltry 30 and 32 in the two innings; gifting his wickets away through his languid, often careless shot selection, while his teammates piled up runs against India Red. His inclusion seems more dubious since Ashwin has consistently proven himself more than just a bowling all-rounder from time to time. It was a welcome move by team management when Ashwin was promoted to bat at no.6 against West Indies last month, an opportunity he grabbed with both hands by hammering two tons against the Caribbeans. His promotion to the number 6 spot had seemingly solved India’s five bowler problem.

It won’t be surprising to see if the team management comes up with excuses to justify Mishra’s exclusion, blaming his lack of authority from bat as one of the potential reasons. It is true that Mishra had a quite series against West Indies and he wasn’t lucky with wickets in the Duleep trophy too. But excluding a bowler of his caliber and including an ‘extra batsman’ in an already batting heavy unit leads to two possible explanations- first, that India is way too much confident about the two spinners and believe that they could dismantle the Kiwi batsmen alone; second, that the management is not too confident about the batting order and wants to test the sharpness of New Zealand’s spin attack before risking a batsman to introduce their third spinner.

A leg spinner is nothing less than an asset to a subcontinent team, especially when they are facing an opponent outside of subcontinent. The last home test series India played was against South Africa in 2015 and it is hard to forget what mayhem the Indian spin trio had unleashed on the Protease, claiming 96% of the total wickets. Mishra played an important role in India’s victory by dismissing the ever dangerous AB de Villiers twice in the series.

Kiwis always find themselves in trouble against spinners and Mishra, with his clever variations and consistency, could have made the game a nightmare for Kiwis. Now Mishra’s fate in the team depends on how the other two spinners are going to perform in the game.