Post the crushing losses overseas, it was assumed that the series at home —our impregnable bastion would prove to be our saving grace. Unfortunately, England, once again, routed India in the Test series and in the process, widened the cracks that had opened up during the earlier losses.
As we gear up to salvage pride against the mighty Australia, it might be prudent to have a closer look at the areas that need special attention. This series should not be played just to win but also to know who’s going to be playing for India in the upcoming overseas assignments.
While Sehwag scored a century in the opening Test against England, Gambhir averaged in the 40s, it might be naïve to believe that the problems at the top don’t exist anymore. Sehwag hasn’t scored a Test ton outside the sub-continent in five years and Gambhir hasn’t scored a Test ton (home or away) in the last three years. These are worrying statistics for India’s success in Test cricket, especially away from home, which relies heavily on the longevity of the opening stand. I’m expecting both of them to hold on to their places for this Test series, but it’s imperative that they fire collectively, for the end of the rope is becoming inevitable.
It’s unbelievable that India haven’t found an able No 6 since the departure of Ganguly in 2008. Raina, Yuvraj and Kohli were tried, but it was only Kohli who showed signs of filling the void. But with the retirement of Dravid and Laxman, he’s been moved up the order, which has opened up the No 6 slot more. It was Dhoni who batted at this number in the last Test but unless he intends to do the same in South Africa, it’s important to find a long-term solution to this perennial problem. I’d be tempted to go with Rahane, Tiwary or Badrinath for this slot, but Dhoni is likely to push for Rohit or Jadeja.
Spinning a web
In the series against England, Panesar and Swann outbowled our spinners. While Ojha did salvage some pride, Ashwin’s prolonged dip in form hurt India badly. Things became so grim that India played as many as four spinners in the last Test in Nagpur. But that’s a luxury you’re not likely to afford in most matches and hence, it’s important for our spinners to start winning matches, at least at home.
This is another area of grave concern for Dhoni. While Zaheer is a doubtful starter, Umesh has been declared unfit for selection. This development makes Ishant our lead fast bowler and even though he’s shown positive signs of evolving as a bowler, he will need help from the other end to push the Aussies.
Sachin was one of the most important batsmen for the Test team, but post Dravid and Laxman, he becomes the most important batsman in the side. Of late though, he hasn’t enjoyed regular successes and that’s putting a lot of pressure on the young batsmen. For India to do well against Australia at home, it's imperative for him to find form again.
The writer is a former India opener