New Delhi: Untimely injuries to Ravindra Jadeja and K L Rahul have given a major selection headache to India as they seek to bounce back in the second Test against England, following a rare defeat at home.
Both Jadeja and Rahul were among India's main performers in the first innings of the Hyderabad Test before England turned the tables on the formidable hosts.
Jadeja sustained a hamstring injury while going for a quick single during the Hyderabad Test while Rahul has complained of pain in his right quadriceps.
The duo's unavailability adds to the woes of the home side, which was clearly stunned by England's 'Bazball' strategy.
Jadeja, with his exceptional all-round abilities, makes himself almost irreplaceable and Rahul too has been among India's standout batters across the ODI and Test format since returning from surgery in September.
Virat Kohli remains unavailable due to personal reasons and after a shock reverse in the series opener, the management will be missing him even more in Visakhapatnam where the second Test begins on Friday.
Rohit Sharma and Rahul Dravid have enough options to choose from with selectors adding three players to the squad -- Sarfaraz Khan, Sourabh Kumar and Washington Sundar.
A straightforward selection will be Rajat Patidar, who was also a part of the 15 in Hyderabad. He could take Rahul's place in the middle-order with Kuldeep Yadav replacing Jadeja as the third spinner alongside R Ashwin and Axar Patel.
Another option for India is to do what England did in the opener, play only one pacer for four spin choices.
In that case, Mohammed Siraj could make way for Kuldeep and the team can accommodate either Sarfaraz Khan or Washington to solidify the middle-order.
Sourabh, who also bowls left-arm spin like Jadeja and is a decent batter with a couple of first-class hundreds to his name, can be a dark horse in that race.
The ACA-VDCA Stadium in Visakhapatnam has staged two Tests to date and the pitch is usually a batting-friendly one at least in the first innings.
Batting first at the venue back in 2019, India had racked up 502 in the first innings against South Africa with Mayank Agarwal getting a double hundred and Rohit scoring a brisk 176 in his first innings as a Test opener.
Spin legend Anil Kumble feels wrist spinner Kuldeep's presence in the eleven will be helpful.
"If India feels that they need only one fast bowler then having Kuldeep will certainly help. He will have variations but England will come and do the same things they did in Hyderabad," Kumble told the host broadcaster.
"The wicket could be a turning one and we are expecting the pace to be quicker than this. This was slow but it was a good wicket if you applied yourself. India certainly needs to buckle up with their approach to playing against spin.
"I also felt that they were certainly rattled by the way England approached their batting and with that, they have to come up with plans, some unconventional ones. They never tried any variations so that's something I am sure they will be looking to do," he said referring to the spin trio being put under pressure with England's relentless sweeping tactic.
Having shown plenty of promise in his four-Test career, left-handed batter Washington who bowls right-hand off-spin, also makes a strong case for selection.
Since making his debut in the iconic Test win at the Gabba, he featured in three games in the previous home series against England in 2021.
Washington managed an 85 not out and 96 not out in five innings over the course of that series and picked up two wickets in a rubber dominated by front-line spinners Ashwin and Axar.
Former selector Sarandeep Singh, during whose tenure Washington made his debut Down Under, said the all-rounder is a utility player but he would not want to tinker too much with the playing eleven.
"It is pretty simple for me. Rajat Patidar comes in for Rahul and Kuldeep comes in for Jadeja. We don't need to copy England and play four spinners. Playing with two pacers and three spinners has been our strength at home. We need to stick to it," said the former India spinner.
However, he reckons it would be better for the team's cause if Rohit drops himself to number 3 and an under-fire Shubman Gill opens the innings alongside Yashasvi Jaiswal.
Gill, who himself had expressed the desire to play at three, has not been able to replicate his white-ball form in the traditional format after having taken veteran Cheteshwar Pujara's place in the top order.
"Gill is not a number three player. He should open it. Rohit is one of the best players of spin and can drop down to accommodate Gill at the top," Sarandeep added.
Former India opener Wasim Jaffer also expressed similar views.
"Gill and Jaiswal should open and Rohit should bat at no.3 in 2nd test in my opinion. Waiting to bat for his turn isn't helping Shubman, it's better he opens the inn. Rohit plays spin really well, so batting at no.3 should not worry him too much," Jaffer posted on X.
Gill and Jaiswal should open and Rohit should bat at no.3 in 2nd test in my opinion. Waiting to bat for his turn isn't helping Shubman, it's better he opens the inn. Rohit plays spin really well, so batting at no.3 should not worry him too much. #INDvENG— Wasim Jaffer (@WasimJaffer14) January 29, 2024