Before the squad was announced for India’s upcoming three-match Test series in Sri Lanka, the only probable point of debate was as to whom the selectors would pick as the third spinner. Karn Sharma was ruled out because of injury and this left the selectors with two possible replacements – Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha. Ravindra Jadeja seems to be out of favour with the selectors at the moment. Having selected a rather well-balanced squad for the one-off Test match in Bangladesh, where Harbhajan Singh made a Test comeback after four years, it was leg spinner Amit Mishra who got the nod to be on the plane to Sri Lanka. Amit Mishra, who played his last Test in England in 2011, takes the place of Karn Sharma in what was the only change to India’s 15-man squad from Virat Kohli’s first full time assignment in Bangladesh.
The Sri Lankan batsmen were tormented by Pakistan’s Yasir Shah in the recent Test series and this definitely played a part in influencing the selectors. The selectors were eager to include a leg-spinner and the chairman of selectors Sandeep Patil explained how that line of thought helped Mishra to edge past left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha and make the 15-man squad for the three-Test series. “Pragyan was discussed for this tour but looking at the conditions in Sri Lanka and their performances against the leg spinners, we preferred Mishra,” Patil said.
While Yasir Shah’s success shows that Sri Lankan batsmen struggle against leg spinners, this doesn’t immediately guarantee that Amit Mishra will be successful too. First things first, Mishra and Shah are completely different types of leg spinners. Yasir Shah has a quick run up and release and delivers the ball at a brisk pace. He relies more on pace variations and quick turn. On the other hand, Amit Mishra is what one could call a traditional leg spinner. He has a short run-up and delivers the bowl at a slow pace. He relies on drift and guile to deceive the batsman. Although Mishra flights the ball a lot more and could extract more spin than Shah, his slow pace also means the batsman has that extra bit of time to judge the spin and play if off the back foot.
While in the limited over format, Mishra’s pace and variations such as the wrong-un, especially, prove to be potent weapons, batsmen at the Test level have the time to figure him out and play late, negotiating the turn. So, to suggest that Yasir Shah’s success in Sri Lanka will mean Amit Mishra will prove to be a hit is not quite justifiable as of now.
Amit Mishra was also part of the very inexperienced bowling attack the last time India played a Test in Sri Lanka in 2010. Having been ignored for the first two matches, Mishra played a solitary Test match where he had a tough time with no-balls. Although he didn’t have a great series that year, the experience could prove to be handful as he heads into this series trying to carve out a place for himself in international cricket once again.
Also, in an interview recently, Amit Mishra spoke about the requirement to test the skills and temperament of batsmen with numerous variations. Mishra said: “Every time I meet Anil Kumble and L Sivaramakrishnan, I discuss my bowling with them. They have told me you can’t survive with just one legbreak. You need two legbreaks, one that turns a lot and the other that turns just enough to take the edge. You need two different paces of legbreak. You need a quicker legbreak so that the batsman can’t afford to just sit back the moment he sees a flatter delivery.”
The first Test of three-match series is set to happen at Galle, the venue where Sri Lanka lost the Test against Pakistan by a 10-wicket margin, with Yasir Shah playing a massive role by picking a seven-wicket haul. With Ravichandran Ashwin set to start as India’s best bowler in recent times, Amit Mishra’s selection provides a fascinating selection puzzle for Virat Kohli, who is intent on carrying on with the 6-5 composition in sub continental conditions.
With the conditions likely to assist the spinners, Virat Kohli might go in with a three-pronged spin attack with Ashwin, Harbhajan and Mishra playing along with two pacers. This is a crucial series for Virat Kohli and co. as he leads the team for the first time in a full series. India haven’t won a Test series in Sri Lanka for two decades and this time around, Virat Kohli will be looking to set the record straight by winning the series against an inexperienced Sri Lankan side. For Mishra, he will be looking forward to a comeback into international cricket and look to cement his place in the team for a long time.