Ashwin and Ojha hunt well as a pair
Ashwin and Pragyan Ohja have done well when bowling in tandem, and in as much as the batsmen need to be given the best possible circumstances to settle down, young spinners need encouragement and reasonably helpful conditions to grow in confidence.
Well, the Indian team's season of transition has started off in a grand manner, hasn't it? Cheteshwar Pujara filled the vacancy created by Rahul Dravid with a century, R Ashwin reaped a 12-wicket bounty, and the team won in an emphatic manner. Much of the attention was centred on the Indian batting in the days leading up to the Test and in the process, an important component was overlooked - the spin department.
Since Anil Kumble's exit, the Indian spin attack has not sported a settled look. Harbhajan Singh held fort on his own for some time but his efficacy diminished in the wake of Kumble's retirement. Eventually, he lost his place to Ashwin, who had a fantastic start against the West Indies. But after a very ordinary tour of Australia, a cloud of doubt crept in. However, he has dispelled that in Hyderabad with a record-breaking effort.
With India scheduled to play three successive Test series at home, I for one believe that this is the best time to get a good slow-bowling combination in place. Ashwin and Pragyan Ohja have done well when bowling in tandem, and in as much as the batsmen need to be given the best possible circumstances to settle down, young spinners need encouragement and reasonably helpful conditions to grow in confidence.
They will have the luxury of bowling on turning tracks, but what Ohja needs is a string of opportunities. He has been a sort of a yo-yo, which might create a sense of insecurity in a young man. However, it was heartening to see him looking calm and composed in Hyderabad. For me, the critical fact was that he was releasing the ball smoother than before. The big numbers will come sooner or later, but what is important is that Ohja needs MS Dhoni's faith at this point in time. Let's not forget that Kumble and Harbhajan performed as well as they did because they enjoyed the confidence of Mohammad Azharuddin and Sourav Ganguly in their early days.
The other way of looking at the current situation is that there are not many options beyond Ojha and Ashwin. Piyush Chawla is part of the squad, but unfortunately he has lost his way after promising much a few seasons ago. His biggest advantage is that he is young and does not have too many competitors. Amit Mishra seems to be a forgotten name, and Rahul Sharma is deemed a shorter-format specialist, which exhausts the list of potential candidates.
There was some talk of Harbhajan returning back to the squad prior to the team being selected, but with the apparent emphasis on building a side for the future, it remained just speculation. In terms of experience and past achievements, he cannot be dismissed lightly. But considering the prevailing circumstances and team objectives, I get the impression that he will have to be patient for a while yet.
It is too early to bring young Harmeet Singh, one of the stars of the Under-19 World Cup-winning side, into the frame. He needs to go through the paces on the domestic circuit for a season or two. Ashwin and Ohja have the advantage of having played a few domestic seasons, which made them the tough competitors that they are today. Like fast bowlers, spinners also hunt in pairs. Both Harbhajan and Ashwin will endorse that view as they struggled a wee bit while carrying the baton on their own. The fast bowlers will be required to do the job in away series, but a team needs spinners as well to make it complete. As such, given that India will play nine more home Tests this season, this is the right time to help the spinners get to the next level.