The test series starts tomorrow and barring any last minute injuries, the Indian team should read something like this –
- Harbhajan Singh
- Zaheer Khan
- Ishant Sharma
The choice of Sreesanth or Ojha will most likely be decided on how green the pitch is at Mohali. On paper, the team looks good, but in my opinion, a few players need to step up and play to their potential in this series.
The batting is not much of a worry – Sehwag has had a good run of scores, Tendulkar is in a purple patch, Laxman has had a great year so far and Dravid, although not among the scores in the Sri Lanka tour looked solid. And I am not worried about Gambhir either – although he has not been making the same kind of scores he made in 2009, he just hasn’t played enough tests. And with Raina coming into the team to back these people up, it looks solid.
The bench strength is OK, if not great – Every time, we’ve needed someone to fill in a spot in the batting, Vijay has come in and provided good relief – but you don’t cement your place in the side with a good 30 or 40. You need to get hundreds and he hasn’t done that yet. To be fair to him, he has only played 7 tests, but still – I’d say it is time for him play a long innings and get that elusive century. Pujara is unlikely to get a game this series, but he is one for the future.
The bowling as Mohan pointed out, is a worry. Zaheer Khan is the only one who fills me with any confidence and even he is coming back from injury. Ishant/Sreesanth (again coming back from injury) will probably do enough to back him up, but the main concern for me are the spinners and Harbhajan Singh in particular. The fast bowlers may get the early break through, but it is the spinners who are going to win matches in India and to be frank, I am not confident that Harbhajan and co can do it. They seriously need to step up and perform.
Did you know when was the last time Harbhajan Singh took a five wicket haul against the Aussies? In 2004! Six years ago!! OK, I am sounding a bit dramatic here – he has played just 6 tests against them since – but still…he hasn’t had the kind of success against the Aussies, that we expect Bhajji to have. The magic that Bhajji weaved in that golden series in 2001 is long gone and his performances with the ball has consistently come down. Don’t get me wrong, his batting average against them has soared and he still brings a sense of apprehension and uncertainty to the Aussies when he he is bowling, but the air of invincibility is gone, even if Michael Clarke talks him up.
Harbhajan is a confidence bowler – once his bowling takes a hit, he starts bowling flat and fast and as soon as a wicket falls, his bowling changes dramatically – suddenly, the ball slows down, there is more flight, more loop, more turn and more people huddled around the wicket to put that extra pressure on the batsman. That is the bowler we saw in the 2001 series, and that is the bowler we would like to see turn up for the test series this time. He needs to step up and play the role of the lead spinner and take the burden of leading the bowling in spin-friendly conditions.
Amit Mishra is another worry – he made his debut with a five-for against the Aussies but has since done nothing of significance. He has played all his matches on spin-friendly tracks of the sub-continent and one would expect more from him. Pragyan Ojha is about the same, although he bowled better than Mishra in Sri Lanka, he just doesn’t have the wickets in his kitty. I suspect that Ojha would get the nod ahead of Mishra in the series, but whoever gets the chance really needs to lift their game up and get wickets.
It doesn’t matter if the batsmen pile up runs, if you can’t get the opposition out twice, you just can’t win matches.