When India take the field for the first Test against South Africa in Centurion on Boxing Day, it will have been exactly a year since they began playing five bowlers overseas consistently. They have been doing that at home under Virat Kohli for years, but it was under then stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane that they followed the template overseas as well, starting from the 2020 Boxing Day Test against Australia in Melbourne.
For eight successive Tests now across Australia and England, India have stuck to the five-bowler combination in the absence of a seam-bowling all-rounder such as a fully-fit Hardik Pandya. And Ravindra Jadeja has been a critical component of that strategy, having missed only the Brisbane Test out of those eight games with a broken thumb. He will be missing the South Africa tour this time with a forearm injury, and his absence will test India’s ability and willingness to apply their preferred five-bowler approach.
Jadeja was the lone specialist spinner used in the four Tests in England earlier this year. He was chosen ahead of Ravichandran Ashwin throughout the series, a decision that divided opinion sharply. But Jadeja has a marginally better record with both bat and ball compared to Ashwin across South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia (the SENA countries).