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Will it be Virat Kohli’s preferred five-bowler template which features all-rounder Shardul Thakur or will an extra batter in Ajinkya Rahane come in keeping in view the bouncy conditions? As the Indian cricket team gears up for the opening Test against South Africa in Centurion from December 26, there are arguments both for and against the two propositions. There is also a third angle to this combination jigsaw puzzle and that’s Hanuma Vihari, who may or may not be considered for a start on the Boxing Day.

The Indian team, for the past three days, has been practising at the Supersport Park in Centurion and Cricket South Africa has provided the visitors an opportunity to practice on the centre wicket in the main stadium.

Centre wicket practice before a Test match in SENA (South Africa, England, Nw Zealand, Australia) countries is a rarity and the skills training (net session) always happens in adjacent area, especially Down Under.

In a short video posted by the bcci.tv, head coach Rahul Dravid spoke about “quality practice and good intensity”, which is what a centre strip training provides and middle-order batter Shreyas Iyer, with a smile, spoke about “grass on wicket” after his session in the middle.

Kohli, who has been an attacking skipper tactically and doesn’t believe in erring on the side of caution, would like to once again go in with five bowlers but it is the absence of Ravindra Jadeja, a very competent No.7 batter and also a left hander (good for variety), will be missed in the middle-order.

“I think Shardul Thakur is the best choice if they go in with five bowlers as he also gives the option of a steady No.7 batter and we also have Ravichandran Ashwin,” former chairman of selectors MSK Prasad told PTI.

“Four bowlers in this line-up are now confirmed if all fit — Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ashwin and Mohammed Siraj. I don’t think, Ishant will be considered ahead of Siraj on current form,” Centurion is a place which is situated 1300 metres above sea level, which means a higher altitude where bowlers can get tired quickly and in case of four bowlers, there remains a possibility of them getting tired.

Prasad though feels that it won’t be the case as India will go into the Test with a week’s practice, which will help the body get acclimatised. In that case, it won’t be a bad idea to play an extra batter.

“I remember once we had a tournament in Nairobi when I played. On the first day of the training, we could barely complete a round of Nairobi Gymkhana as we were completely out of breath due to the altitude level of Nairobi city. After a couple of days, the body got used to it,” he said.

In case of an extra batter, the choice is between Rahane and Vihari.

Vihari, who wasn’t a part of New Zealand Test series at home had three fifty plus scores, 54, 72 not out and 63 respectively against South Africa A and has gotten used to the conditions in the last one month.

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However, Rahane, who perhaps is getting one last series to prove his worth, stands a better chance as of now to be the sixth batter if Kohli takes a more ‘Dravidian route’ which is safety first.

India’s Possible combination 10 certainties (subject to fitness): Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj 11th name: Shardul Thakur (bowling all-rounder)/Hanuma Vihari/Ajinkya Rahane (extra batter).

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By William Regal

Used to think I was a tad indecisive, but now I’m not quite sure.

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