The Indian team management faces a difficult decision while deciding the playing XI for the first Test against South Africa, which begins on December 26 at the SuperSport Park in Centurion. While India’s opening pair of KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal stands out, in the absence of Rohit Sharma, the middle order positions of No. 3 and 5 – as well as the bowling combination – are the ones to watch.

Shreyas Iyer and Hanuma Vihari are putting pressure on Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, but India has a bowling problem. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami are expected to return, which raises the question of whether they will be aided by one or two extra bowlers. MSK Prasad, a former Indian wicket keeper and former head of the BCCI’s selectors, has weighed in on the team’s bowling lineup, stating the ‘best pick’ and four players he believes will play the Boxing Day Test.

“If they go in with five bowlers, I think Shardul Thakur is the ideal decision because he also provides them the option of a steady No.7 batter, and we also have Ravichandran Ashwin,” Prasad told PTI. “Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ashwin, and Mohammed Siraj are the four bowlers in this line-up who are now confirmed if they are all fit. On current form, I don’t believe Ishant will be regarded ahead of Siraj.”

With Ravindra Jadeja absent and R Ashwin slated to be the lone spinner in the XI, India would welcome another bat-and-ball option. While Ashwin is a great batsman, as evidenced by his five Test hundreds, Thakur has also impressed with his batting, striking three half-centuries. Thakur’s debut Test half-century came against Australia at the Gabba, when he hit 67, and he hit double fifties against England at the Oval in September.