So India lost the first Test at the SSC in Colombo. Correction. They did not just lose the 1st Test. They were mauled by what Sri Lankan captain, Mahela Jeyawardane called “the perfect Test“. It was indeed a “perfect” performance by Sri Lanka. Muthiah Muralidharan had a terrific Test match and Ajantha Mendis — I was a fan of his style of bowling from the moment I saw him in the Asia Cup Final — had a perfect debut Test. The Sri Lankan batsmen kept their foot on the pedal when they batted and made the most of shoddy fielding, bad catching and a lacklustre bowling performance by the Indians.
So where does India go from here?
Unfortunately, given the team composition that India has gone with, and given the captain’s proclivity to back his peers, nothing much can really be done!
Dinesh Karthik had an awful match. He made several blunders in his ‘keeping and his batting made Devang Gandhi look like a better alternative! It was that bad! However, I do not believe that the team will dare risk Parthiv Patel as a replacement! So it begs the question: Why did Parthiv Patel go in the first place? Would it not have been better to take a youngster like Srivats Goswami?
In the bowling department, Zaheer Khan bowled like a millionaire and Ishant Sharma was largely ineffective. Having said that, it is not like the team would risk swapping them with R. P. Singh and Munaf Patel? Munaf Patel bowls just a tad faster than Chaminda Vaas’s slower ball these days — which, in turn, is just marginally slower than Anil Kumble’s normal delivery! 🙂
It is likely that R. P. Singh might replace Zaheer Khan and if the team management had courage, this swap may be profitable. It does not mean that R. P. Singh is a better bowler. But given the listless ineffectiveness of Zaheer Khan’s approach in the 1st Test, it may be that a shake-up is needed!
The spin bowling department presents more serious questions. Anil Kumble cannot be dropped. He is the captain. Harbhajan Singh was pedestrian in his approach and quality. It may be a good idea to swap him for Pragyan Ojha? But is this a viable option? It isn’t as if Ojha has a Mendis-like reputation behind him. And having not been in a pressure situation in the past, it is unlikely that India will risk losing pressure-cooker-situation experience for a debutant. For, however ineffective Harbhajan Singh was, he does have pressure-cooker-situation experience on his side. It will take a brave — very brave — captain to swap Harbhajan Singh for Pragyan Ojha for the 2nd Test!
The only way Ojha (or another pace bowler) can slot in is if one of the Fab Four batsmen is dropped (either that or Gautam Gambhir is dropped to allow Dinesh Karthik to open the innings). These are unlikely scnarios.
So, in the bowling and ‘keeping department, apart from a possible swap of R. P. Singh for Zaheer Khan, I do not foresee any change that India can make!
The batting is even more interesting! Given the absence of an all-rounder in the team, India is forced the hand it has been dealt by the selectors! Given the balance of the team and given that the batsmen capitulated so meekly in the 1st Test, nothing dramatic is going to happen with the batting — either the composition or the line-up! So, I predict the same batting line-up that India took to the 1st Innings of the Colombo Test — with Dravid at #3. In my view, there is nothing wrong with Dravid at #3. He is struggling, but I haven’t seen any evidence to indicate that Laxman is in the form of his life either!
It will require some courage for Kumble and the Team management to swap Sourav Ganguly for Rohit Sharma. In my view, this will be a welcome change and the commencement of a gradual phase-out of the Fab Four. However, in my view, it will not happen now. Kumble is perhaps too much of a traditionalist and peer-group-camaraderie-captain to go down that route. These are hard decisions that require a hard, relentless and uncompromising leader. In this regard, Kumble is no Steve Waugh.
So I suspect that the batting order will be the same too!
All an India fan can hope for is a better showing from its ‘stars’.
We live in hope of a bounce-back by India. It is possible. It has been done before. It needs the team to step up to the plate and play with the aggression and intent that it can.