India's all-rounder conundrum

What has been clear over the last four and a half weeks, is that India's teams for the four Tests have not been balanced ones.

Pandya is the team's fifth bowler but at Edgbaston, he sent down only 10 overs in total and was not required to bowl in the second innings at all.   -  GETTY IMAGES

In the end, the difference between India and England at the Ageas Bowl was only 60 runs. That is a gap that, over two innings, could have been bridged by a couple of partnerships, an hour and a half of batting, or indeed by Kumar Dharmasena finding Sam Curran out LBW for 30 on Thursday (umpire's call, the review said). But there is no end to such reflection: every turning point can now be identified in hindsight.

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What has been clear over the last four and a half weeks, however, is that India's teams for the four Tests have not been balanced ones.

Virat Kohli's preference for fielding five bowlers is well-known. "Even if you score 800 or 1000 runs in Test matches, if you don’t take wickets, victory won’t come," he said ahead of the fourth Test.

"In first-class cricket, the first-innings lead concept is there but in Test cricket, it’s not there. If you take 20 wickets, you will get a win or at least a draw. Instead of focusing on the batsmen, we have been focusing on the bowlers on how to take 20 wickets. That’s why we have been playing with five bowlers for a long time now. If we don’t play five bowlers, our chances of taking 20 wickets narrows."

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It a sound argument. Except it is one worth reconsidering in bowler-friendly conditions, especially when the batting has been struggling. The five-bowler approach works when teams have a reliable wicket-keeper-batsman and a genuine all-rounder, who can bat at six and seven.

India has neither and has a rickety top order. Dinesh Karthik endured two difficult matches with the bat and was replaced by Rishabh Pant. It was the right move but Pant is making his debut here and cannot be expected to score a truck-load of runs.

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Kohli's five-bowler plan is also based on the premise that Hardik Pandya is a proper Test all-rounder which, at the moment, is a flawed one. The Baroda man draws a lot of criticism but some of it is unfair - he is not responsible for team strategy. He plays because he is chosen.

Pandya is the team's fifth bowler but at Edgbaston, he sent down only 10 overs in total and was not required to bowl in the second innings at all.

In the fourth Test, only 17 overs were asked of him - a tenth of what India bowled in total - and he did not bowl until after 65 overs in the second innings.

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Pandya bowled well at Trent Bridge, and he deserves praise for it, but in these conditions, India's three other quicks might have shared that workload.

Bharat Arun, India's bowling coach, said something interesting ahead of the Lord's Test. "The less Hardik bowls, the better it augurs for the team," he stated, "because it means the other bowlers have done very well."

If Pandya's bowling is deemed surplus to requirements - as it evidently was by the captain at Edgbaston and the Ageas Bowl - then he may well be replaced by a sixth specialist batsman (after all, Pandya scored a total of four runs in Southampton).

There is no guarantee this other player would have completed even a single half-century on this tour. But there is a chance he could have walked in at six at the Ageas Bowl, and stitched that one little partnership.

On Sunday, that could have made all the difference.