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HomesportscricketAshwin on Lucknow pitch would've been easy call but Hardik's absence makes...

Ashwin on Lucknow pitch would've been easy call but Hardik's absence makes it tougher

Lucknow: Playing Ravichandran Ashwin as the third spinner in Lucknow would have been a comfortable call in Hardik Pandya’s presence but the star all-rounder is yet to regain full fitness, making the Indian team management’s task a bit complicated ahead of the England clash on Sunday.

Batting at six and being the third seamer, Hardik lends critical balance to the playing eleven. His absence in Dharamsala forced India to make two changes though the World Cup hosts managed to collect their fifth consecutive win to remain the only unbeaten side in the tournament. India also have the luxury of six bowling options when Hardik is around but like Dharamsala, the team is expected to field five bowlers against a deflated England here.

It did not hurt India against the Black Caps but it could very well backfire in future games. Mohammad Shami and Suryakumar Yadav were drafted into the side to cover for Hardik’s all-rounder abilities while Shardul Thakur went out of the playing eleven.

Rohit Sharma and Co. have been crystal clear with their plans and combinations, adopting a horses for courses approach over the course of nine league games in nine different venues.

Ashwin is the team’s choice at number 8 in spin friendly conditions and when a flat track is offered, Shardul takes his place. However, it is not that simple when Hardik is not part of the side.

If Ashwin takes the field against England in conditions that are likely to aid spinners, India could be fielding only two specialist pacers. Jasprit Bumrah walks into the side but there could be a toss up between Mohammad Siraj and Mohammad Shami, who has raised selection headaches in the dressing room with his skillful five-wicket haul in Dharamsala.

Former India spinner and selector Sarandeep Singh believes India must have a sixth bowling option even in Hardik’s absence. That could require the likes of Virat Kohli to roll his arm over in the middle overs. He and Shubman Gill bowled in the nets on Thursday.

“There should be six bowling options with or without Hardik. Other teams have started to up their game. What if Bumrah has a bad day. Kuldeep got hit the other day but he bounced back. Teams have not been able score 350 against us but it can happen.”

“If you are not going to get a sixth bowler, then you will need someone like Kohli to chip in with two of three overs. India must plan for all scenarios and I am sure they are doing that,” Sarandeep told PTI.

England have massively under performed as defending champions but they remain a team full of match-winners. There is every possibility that boom or bust approach works against the home team and they might attack Kuldeep and Co. to unsettle their plans.

Ashwin, who bowled and batted in the nets on Thursday, fits into the matchups equation with England having a couple of left handers in Dawid Malan, Ben Stokes and potentially Sam Curran.

With winning the World Cup being the end goal, India will be better off exploring an additional bowling option with or without Ashwin. When Hardik is back, the Ashwin and Shardul swap will continue.

(Published 27 October 2023, 07:58 IST)

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