India unlikely to change winning combination vs Australia

Despite being consistently excellent in home conditions, Ojha may have to spend more time warming the bench.

Updated: February 26, 2013 19:16 IST
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The last time India played a Test in Hyderabad, beating New Zealand by an innings last August, R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha shared 18 wickets. The two pace bowlers, Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav, bowled 42 overs for two wickets. Only one of that quartet, Ashwin, is certain to play the second Test against Australia. Despite being consistently excellent in home conditions, Ojha may have to spend more time warming the bench.

"You have to see the opposition line-up," said Mahendra Singh Dhoni after India's eight-wicket win in Chennai. "Especially in this Test match, there were lots of left-handers and we assumed that the wicket would turn. It's often said that the away-going spinner is quite difficult to play. We had someone like Jadeja who can bowl long spells and at the same time be conservative. That was the one of the main reasons we went with two offspinners, and Jadeja doing the left-arm spinner's job."

In 16 home Tests, Ojha has 83 wickets at 28.46, and a strike-rate of 66.3. Since Anil Kumble's retirement, Harbhajan Singh has taken 64 wickets in 15 home Tests. Both his average (35.48) and strike-rate (74.5) are significantly worse than Ojha's. Past performances and the four lefties in Australia's top six nudged Harbhajan ahead in the selection stakes, however, and Dhoni admitted it was hard to imagine playing four spinners as India had in Nagpur.

"There was a bit of spin for the spinners, but overall this was quite a good wicket," said Dhoni. "Also, Bhuvnesh [Kumar] is someone who can bat a bit. We all know the importance of batting deep because it really frustrates the opposition bowling. I think we went with the right combination.

"Also, if you have that extra spinner - and three itself is a lot - then at the press conference, it becomes very difficult to answer why the fourth one bowled only a small number of overs," added Dhoni with a smile. "It's difficult. You can't make three or four spinners bowl the exactly same number of overs. You don't see the number of overs bowled by them, and then make a bowling change. Whoever looks effective, according to that, you make the change."

India went into this series with a new opening combination, with Gautam Gambhir jettisoned after being a near-constant in the side since his return in 2008. But both Murali Vijay and Virender Sehwag failed in Chennai. Vijay has just 116 runs to show for in his last ten Test innings, but Dhoni urged patience. "You need to give them a fair amount of time," he said. "Let's hope for the best. Vijay has played this game, let's continue with him and give him some time and the comfort of knowing that he's wanted over here."

Sehwag's first match in spectacles wasn't a success either. "When he scores runs, he looks a fantastic player," said Dhoni. "When he doesn't score runs, you question the shot he played or the way he played. He's someone who's always played with that sort of flair. This wicket, there was not much pace.

"The first innings, he was unfortunate because he middled the ball, yet it came back and fell on the stumps. Second innings, there was not much pace for him to play freely. I think we need to give him more time. We all know he is someone who can change the course of the game."

Dhoni himself will continue at No.6, where he batted in Chennai and Nagpur. "Till Jadeja gets comfortable and gets used to Test cricket, I've got to bat at No. 6," he said. "If he starts to do really well, according to the talent he has, we'll think about it later."

There was no criticism from Dhoni of Australia's decision to go in with a pace-heavy attack. "They went with their strength," he said. "They rely on their fast bowlers, and at the start of the series they wanted to go with what their strength was. After four days of cricket, maybe Michael would think that it would have been better if they'd gone in with another spinner. But it's easier to decide on these things once the Test match is over.

"As far as their batting line-up is concerned, I think they have a very good one. The wicket was a bit on the slower side, and the offspinners were able to put pressure on them. But overall, I think they're a very good batting line-up. They're very aggressive and as the series progresses, I think they'll bat well."

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