India vice-captain KL Rahul has revealed that the team could select three spinners for the opening match of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series against Australia.
The four-match Test series against Australia is one of the most eagerly-anticipated series for some time, with the result also set to have a decisive impact on qualification for the ICC World Test Championship Final.
Australia and India occupy the top two spots in the WTC Standings and are favourites to meet again in the final in London in June. But Sri Lanka could yet finish in the top two should results fall in their favour.
"It is a must-win series, and when it’s India v Australia it always is – each team wants to win, it’s a big series,” Rahul told a media conference ahead of Thursday’s opening Test in Nagpur.
“I don’t think it’s any different to any other Border-Gavaskar series that we play. Yes, we do realise that there’s a World Test Championship Final that we all want to play in and are looking forward to, but we also don’t want to think too far ahead, take it one game at a time and remain in the present, win the first game here in Nagpur and then go from there.”
One of the big selection discussions surrounding the India team will be if and where Shubman Gill plays in the batting order.
The youngster has been in superb form in white-ball cricket and scored an excellent century in Bangladesh in the first Test of that series in December. But competition for places is fierce, and it is unclear whether Gill will open the batting, slot into the middle order, or miss out on selection for the XI in Nagpur altogether.
Asked specifically about Gill’s role, Rahul remained tight-lipped on the make-up of the side.
“We still haven’t decided on the final playing XI, but all I can say is it’s going to be a really tough decision. There are guys who have performed exceedingly well, and there are few spots open, so there are a few discussions going on and the players are being spoken to.
“I think every time you play for the country it’s always a tough decision to select the playing XI. All 15 or 16 guys that are selected are all top quality and have performed, that’s why they are here. Everyone on their given day can be a match winner.
“We always try and make a decision based on what is best for the team in that given Test match," Rahul continued.
"We’ve had questions raised previously about why certain players are playing and then not the next Test match. I’ve played for ten years, but you can play for 20 or 30 years of the game and even after you retire there’s nobody who can look at a pitch and say 'this is exactly what’s going to happen', it’s purely based on a little bit of experience and history of that surface to try and make that decision.
“Sometimes it is tough on the players who miss out, but that’s how the game goes. Everyone has gone through that journey, and everybody here is very clear about what the team is thinking, why they’re playing or why they’re not playing, what their roles and responsibilities are. The atmosphere in the changing room is really good and everyone is really clear on what the captain and the coach want.”
With the ball, Australia are bringing one of the highest-calibre fast-bowling attacks in the world to India. And Rahul is aware of the threat the Aussie quicks will pose, both with the new ball and with reverse swing.
But the vice-captain suggested that the Indian camp are expecting spinning conditions, and could even opt for three spinners in their XI if the final pitch conditions merit it.
“The things that we’ve worked on is playing spin, we know how the pitches are going to be here in India and what to expect, so bearing that in mind we’ve practiced playing spin,” KL said.
“There will be a temptation to play three spinners. We’re playing in India, there’s no surprise that the pitch is going to spin. But we’ll make that call on the day of the game.
"Any team that has quality fast bowlers like Australia who can exploit reverse swing is going to be dangerous on pitches like this.
"We know the threat that they bring to the series, with the new ball and with the older ball if it starts reversing. That’s the beauty of playing against top teams. Especially playing against Australia, that’s what excites you, the challenges.”
The series begins on Thursday in Nagpur, with further Tests to follow in Delhi, Dharamsala and Ahmedabad.