Dhoni should rely on Ashwin-Ojha combination

Last Updated: Wed, Feb 13, 2013 10:46 hrs

There is still about a week to go before the start of the India-Australia Test series but the prospects are being discussed elaborately. Is India's batting strong enough to tackle the Aussie pace battery? How will the Aussie spin attack - clearly the weak link - fare against the formidable Indian batting line-up? 

Will India field three spin bowlers in the playing eleven? Are the batsmen going to make hay since the batting on both sides is strong? Does Australia have the firepower to reverse the verdict of the last two contests in this country which saw India win both by comfortable 2-0 margins? Can India wipe out the unhappy memories of the England series by winning against the Aussies?
At the outset, it must be said that with both sides being hit by injuries these are not the best teams that can be fielded. But there is hardly any lack of quality and one can look forward to a high octane series hopefully marked by good cricket and a keen contest - and less histrionics. Unfortunately, in recent times off the field matters have sullied the overall atmosphere somewhat and have camouflaged the lively action that has been seen on the field.

On paper at least the teams seem to be evenly matched though Australia have always found it hard to win in India. They were successful in the initial years winning three of the four contests and drawing the other. But since the 70s when there has been an upsurge in Indian cricket's fortunes, they have won only one Test series in India. 

And it is not just the Aussies but every opponent knows it is difficult to emerge triumphant in this country. Notwithstanding the recent loss to England - and they were winning a series in India after 28 years - one can say that Australia has a tough task on their hands.
Indeed the only way it appears that the Aussies can defeat India is for the five-man pace attack to come good. With the spin bowling looking emaciated a lot will depend on Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson and Jackson Bird. Indian pitches are no more as docile as they were and the quintet must be hoping that they can achieve what Steve Finn and James Anderson did not too long ago. 

They will also be encouraged by the fact that several Aussie speedsters in the past notably Ray Lindwall, Alan Davidson, Graham McKenzie, Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie have performed admirably in Tests in India. In any case they carry a heavy responsibility for if they fail Michael Clarke and his team are doomed to failure as the spin attack is virtually non-existent. 

One just cannot see the likes of Xavier Doherty, Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell bother the Indian batsmen even one bit - should they find a place in the playing eleven in the first place. Nathan Lyon, the spin spearhead, could find the going tough and at best one can see him keep the run rate down.    
The other hope for the visitors is that they can match the Indians in the batting department. This is a possibility for again on paper the Aussies have more than enough firepower in the batting. In Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Ed Cowan, Phil Hughes, David Warner and Mathew Wade they not only have skilled craftsmen but also enterprising entertainers who can keep the scoreboard moving at a brisk pace. And if the runs can be obtained at a quick pace it gives the bowlers that much more time to try and bowl out India twice.
From the Indian viewpoint, now that the side has been picked the team management will have to take a few tough decisions. Should Virender Sehwag's partner be Murali Vijay or Shikhar Dhawan. The latter has the advantage of being a left-hander besides being among the runs but he is a new cap while Vijay has played 12 Tests and is also in rip roaring form.
There is also talk of India going in with three spinners but I don't think this is quite a desirable idea. It is not even a practical proposition for that will mean going in with one batsman less. This is not defensive thinking it just that it affects the balance of the side without having anything going for it. 

The ideal attack will be two pacemen and two spinners with Sehwag always there to lend a helping hand. And should the team management opt for Ravindra Jadeja instead of Ajinkya Rahane for the No 6 slot that would mean another spinning option though I am quite sure the think tank will prefer the superior batsman rather than go in with the utility man.
Also while it is taken for granted that Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will open the attack which of the three spinners will make the cut? Pragyan Ojha and Ravichandran Ashwin have been the spin duo for some time now but Harbhajan Singh has a strong lobby rooting for him. Going by his record against Australia in this country, it may be difficult to overlook his claims even though he is past his best. 

Moreover, his inclusion would be grossly unfair to Ojha and Ashwin who haven't done badly of late. The other option being discussed is the playing of two off-spinners given the susceptibility of the Aussies against this mode of attack but Ojha has been the leading wicket-taker for some time now. 

Propagators of the two off-spinner theory could well point out to Parvez Rassol's seven-wicket haul in the tour opener at Chennai, but in the final analysis it would be better to stick with Ojha-Ashwin combination given the fact that Harbhajan wasn't exactly successful in his comeback Test against England.    

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