Rajkot: Anil Kumble is facing a selection conundrum as he needs to choose either "fifth bowler" Hardik Pandya or "sixth batsman" Karun Nair for the series-opener against England, but India's chief coach did not reveal much on his preference, praising talent of both the players.
Kumble made it clear that the team will allow Hardik to "express himself" as an all-rounder who can be the potential fifth bowler and was unequivocal about team management fully backing the talented Karun if he gets an opportunity.
Asked about Hardik, the legendary spinner sounded very positive.
"Hardik is an extremely talented player. Even when he first came into IPL, he showed what he was capable of. Yes, the shorter format is different but we have all seen the potential that Hardik has. Whether it is a short glimpse in a T20, or whether when he bowled at Dharamsala (three wickets)or batted at Delhi (30 plus runs). That's why we have backed him to get him in the Test squad," Kumble said.
You could get a sense of what's going in his mind when he spoke about Hardik's potential as a fifth bowler.
"We all understand the importance of a fifth bowler. And if someone can bowl at 140 and give option of batting well lower down the order, we are really looking at how Hardik develops. We are going to give all the freedom to express himself whenever he gets the opportunity. Quality player whom we will back, nice thing to have an all-rounder in the squad."
When the discussion veered towards whether Karun Nair, who could be a possible choice as the sixth specialist batsman is being considered, Kumble was equally positive in his response without playing the ball.
"Karun has done all hard yards in domestic cricket. He has scored runs heavily, regularly and consistently. There was some talk about him not getting runs in Australia for India A but what we are looking at is consistency. That's why he was a part of New Zealand Test squad. After that he went back to Ranji Trophy, got those runs, hundreds. It has opened an opportunity for Karun now that Rohit (Sharma) is injured," Kumble said.
"We haven't looked at combination. Karun is someone we have kept close eye on, backed him for all good things that he has done. I am sure he will get an opportunity. We want to back him to get runs as he has done for Karnataka."
India have lost last three Test series to England (2011 and 2014 in England and 2012-13 series at home) but Kumble does not want to dwell on the past.
"You can look at history. Look at the way you want to. It's new England and Indian teams. Yes, some players played in last series but for us, what is really good has been we have been playing Test cricket. Apart from five ODIs and couple of T20s in Florida, it has been seven Tests in a row, we have seen development of our team in these matches and that's (a) healthy (sign).
"Every player is looking forward to this series. Immediate performance matters. That's the confidence we would like to take into the series," said Kumble.
Questioned about comparative quality of the New Zealand and England, Kumble said he was more happy that his team is showing adaptability in various conditions.
"New Zealand was a hard-fought series. The results show 3-0 but we exactly know how hard it was. It was really nice that all three surfaces were different. Team adapted well to conditions. That's our strength. We are certainly looking at opposition's strength and weaknesses."
The coach termed Alastair Cook and Joe Root as two batsmen that they have to watch out for but reminded that bowling attack of the visitors also need to be looked at.
"Alastair Cook has been here on a number of occasions. he is a quality player. Joe Root. Also their bowling attack something that has troubled us in past. How we can measure up to whatever we set out to do."
Kumble said that Rajkot strip looked a good surface.
"This is the first Test match happening at Rajkot. It's a new stadium. We have played ODIs and T20 but in Tests, we don't know how the wicket will be. It looks a good surface. We still have a couple of days to go for combination."
In a nutshell, Kumble wants his team to execute plans exactly like they did against New Zealand.
"We bowled right areas. Each surface demanded a different adaptation as a bowler. In batting, we clicked. That's what we expect in first Test as well."