As the TV promo trumpets, the upcoming four-Test series against the Australians is a "real test" for not just Dhoni, but also the Indian team. Nothing short of a series win will appease the fans and that alone should put the home team under pressure to perform. Never mind that Srikkanth believes Clarke’s side is among the weakest ever to visit us from Australia. At the end of the day, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and the battle is yet to commence.
For the moment, the focus would be on the team composition for the first Test in Chennai beginning Friday. Dhoni’s side took a beating against England on so-called designer pitches that the Indian skipper kept harping on after winning the first Test at Ahmedabad. He got what he wanted, but it only contributed to the Indian downfall.
Thus, the theory that India should go in with four spinners with Ishant the lone specialist new ball bowler, falls flat on its face. Conversely, for our spinners to take 20 wickets to win the game, they need runs on the board. So, it makes little sense if India were to pack the side with bowlers rather than batsmen, thus also upsetting the balance. Rather that Dhoni keeps faith in Ashwin and Ojha, with Jadeja providing another spin dimension while Ishant has either Bhuvaneshwar Kumar or Dinda for company.
The other major decision for the Indian team management would be the opening partner for Sehwag as that is the only batting position that is up for grabs. Pujara, Sachin, Kohli and Dhoni are certainties with Jadeja possibly filling in the all-rounder’s spot, followed by four specialist bowlers.
In this context, local lad Vijay would be a better choice, though Dhawan, the other leading contender for opener’s spot, has the runs to back him, but his careless shot in the Irani Cup second innings leading to his dismissal for naught could yet be held against him. Vijay looked polished and in prime form in the Irani game.
The pitch at Chepauk, after being relaid a couple of seasons ago, has shown marked inconsistency in pace and bounce. To begin with, it was rather slow and low and made for poor cricket. Hopefully, with more matches played on that pitch, it should keep both batsmen and bowlers interested.
Under the circumstances, it stands to reason that the Indians should also actively look at the batting line-up rather than merely debate on the bowling composition. I feel that two specialist spinners in Ashwin and Ojha should be adequate, though neither really looked to be in good form against England. The point is that if these two spinners cannot deliver, then I doubt a third specialist slow bowler would make any difference.
The Aussies have not exactly set the pitch alight in the two practice games ahead of the first Test. However, I wouldn’t read too much in those performances, for, on the big stage, it is a different ball game as the series against England reflected.
We denied England quality spinners in the warm-up matches, but in the Tests, the visitors proved more than a match for a rather complacent India. Taking a leaf out of that debacle, Dhoni’s men would be better off not according any cognizance to the talk that the current Aussie team is anything but a world-beater.
The Aussies have kept faith in their pace attack by picking just one specialist spinner for the Chennai Test while the Indians, quite typically, would put the pitch under a microscope before announcing the playing eleven. At the best of times, it is wiser to trust the team’s ability to deliver rather than give too much importance to the nature of the pitch or, for that matter, the toss.
We can endlessly debate and theorise the Indian team composition, but I suspect, Dhoni, going by his track record, would still plump for a bowling attack with a pronounced bias for spin. We could yet see Ashwin, Ojha and Harbhajan whose selection in the first place had more to do with reputation than current form, bowling in harness on the premise that the Aussies cannot handle quality spin.
Whatever be the team composition, one cannot ignore the fact that there will be a huge premium on performance. Topping all is the issue over Dhoni’s continuation as a Test captain and the forthcoming series could well be the last roll of the dice for him as the selectors are unlikely to look kindly at another defeat.
And yes, there is the Sachin factor that, as in the past, will grab a lot of attention. His recent centuries in Ranji and Irani games have raised expectations and I am sure, the heartbeat will go through the roof when the Maestro walks out to bat.
There are enough indicators to suggest we are in for a highly competitive series with its quota of ayes and nays, on and off the pitch. May the best team win!