“If I was them [India], knowing the importance of this game – and you have to win this Test match – I’d be going with Ishan Kishan in this game,” Ponting said. “He provides that little bit of X-factor that you need when you might be pushing for a win in a Test match. Obviously, if Rishabh Pant is fit, he is playing, and he provides that X-factor for India. But with him not being there, and this is no blot on Bharat whatsoever, but I think Kishan just provides that little bit more X-factor, who’d do a good job with the gloves but can provide that really high-scoring run rate that is required in a one-off Test match to push for a win.
“I’d be going with as many X-factor players as I could and put some real pressure back on Australia.”
Neither Kishan nor Suryakumar are Test regulars. Kishan is yet to make his Test debut, though he was in the squad for the home Test series against Australia earlier this year, while Suryakumar played his only Test in that same series, making eight runs the only time India batted in Nagpur, where they won by an innings and 132 runs on their way to a 2-1 series win.
Both players, however, have decent first-class records.
While Suryakumar has scored 5557 runs in 80 first class games at an average of 44.45, Kishan has 2985 in 48 matches, averaging 38.76. They have both, however, made their names mainly as explosive short-format batters.
Rahane, India’s No. 5 until he was dropped in early 2022, had a good domestic season (2022-23) where he finished as Mumbai’s highest run-getter in the Ranji Trophy with 634 runs in seven matches at 57.63. Rahane also surprised many watchers with his aggressive stroke play as a top-order impact batter for Chennai Super Kings in the latest IPL.
“Jinks (Rahane) has had an incredible IPL as well. It’s funny, isn’t it, how IPL runs can now get you picked back into a Test match squad,” Ponting said. “Jinks has been on the outer for the last couple of years in Test cricket, but everyone saw how confident he looked and how well he played in the IPL and that was enough to get him back in.
“He has been there and done it before in Test cricket. It was probably a bigger hurdle for him to climb to get back into playing really good T20 cricket than it is for him to go back and play good Test cricket. His make-up is much more suited to the Test game than it is to T20 cricket. He has rediscovered some confidence and if he does get picked, I won’t be surprised to see him get runs in that Test match.
“He has always been a really high-quality player and we saw him even with his leadership qualities here in Australia, in that last series to turn things around.”
The 15-man India squad has three frontline spinners – all of them spin-bowling allrounders – in Ashwin, Jadeja and Axar Patel. While Axar has showed consistency across formats in recent months, Ponting expects India to opt for Ashwin and Jadeja purely because of the nature of the pitch at The Oval, where the Test will be played from June 7 to 11.
“I think they will pick Jadeja and Ashwin because Jadeja can hold that No. 6 batting spot,” Ponting said. “His batting has improved that much that they can pick him as a batter now that might just bowl a few overs if required. There is no doubt that Ashwin is a more skilled and better Test bowler than what Jadeja is, but if Jadeja can hold down that batting spot and then as the game goes on, getting into the fourth and fifth day, if it does start to turn, then you have got that really high-class second spin bowling option if required.
“Historically, the Oval pitch has been a very good batting wicket. It’s generally offered something for the fast bowlers on day one, not a lot. But I have also played some games there where it has turned a lot. If it starts a little bit dry, it can turn a lot.”
Ashish Pant is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo