What was frequently described as a luxury - playing five specialist bowlers in a One-Day International - has become a necessity for the Indian team. While Harbhajan Singh has been his efficient self - the match against Pakistan was an aberration --- and Ashish Nehra has provided glimpses of being penetrative, the rest of the attack has been so pedestrian that Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been forced to bolster the attack.
The problem for Dhoni will be accurately reading the pitch at Centurion. While the surface used in the Pakistan game certainly afforded purchase, there’s no guarantee that the one for the Australia game will be the same. Already we’ve seen the variations in surfaces between the two hosting venues and the practice grounds has called for a quick adjustment of line and length by the bowlers.
The obvious change would be to bring in leg-spinner Amit Mishra for Yusuf Pathan, who has consistently promised plenty and delivered little.
The hope was that Pathan would be used as an impact batsman and that he’d chip in with some tight off-spin. This hasn’t been the case, and the odd occasion when he has been called to bat, low down the order, he has failed to fire.
The other change that Dhoni can contemplate is fitting Abhishek Nayar into the eleven. The bowling all-rounder will give him a seam option, and cover in case the pitch or conditions somehow turn out to be the type to assist the quicker bowlers. In this case the batting will be weakened, and Virat Kohli will be the one to miss out, not necessarily as a result of his performance in the last game, but because the balance of the side demanded it.
Even after a stressful and intense day-night encounter against Pakistan, the Indian team pitched up for training on Sunday afternoon. The Australians have composition concerns of their own. Michael Clarke, vice-captain of the team, was forced to sit out of Australia’s first game of the tournament — against West Indies — with a bad back. Given that India plan to go into the game with an extra spinner, Clarke, and his reputation as a good player of spin, will be a welcome addition to the batting line-up.
While getting the combination right will go a long way in sorting out India’s problems, Dhoni’s problems will not go away until his bowlers put their heads down and do the job.