India’s decision to field left-arm spin bowling allrounder Ravindra Jadeja in place of off-spinner R Ashwin in the second Test against South Africa in Durban is a classic case of taking a step towards having an attack that can claim 20 wickets but stopping short of taking a more decisive step by playing with just four bowlers again.
The track was looking more the brown than green at the start of the Test. It also seems dry and hard with no signs of any cracks, suggesting that it can play true through the Test. That is reason why India needed to go into the game with five bowlers rather than just four as it has now.
The inclusion of paceman Umesh Yadav or swing exponent Bhuvneshwar Kumar or even Ashwin’s retention in place of a specialist batsman – either Murali Vijay or Ajinkya Rahane — would have sent out a stronger signal of India’s hunger to win the Test and register its maiden series victory in the Rainbow Nation.
India’s thinktank does not have the confidence of dropping Vijay, who did play a role in blunting the home team’s attempt to make forays with the new ball at the Wanderers last week, or Rahane. Clearly, it did not want to ‘risk’ going into the Test with six batsmen.
Yet, with Chetsehwar Pujara and Virat Kohli scoring hundreds in Johannesburg, it would have been wonderful if India’s tour selectors were more practical and looked at adding strength to the bowling unit. For, it is not often that an Indian team looks to have the better of the exchanges in a series in South Africa.
Some are tempted not to think of skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni as specialist batsmen given his perceived limitations against swing bowling. But India needed to back the man who has more than 4300 Test runs at close to 40 runs an innings rather than be inclined to think of him as anything less than a specialist batsman.
Ishant Sharma’s inability to replicate the great length that he bowled in the first innings at Johannesburg barely two days later is one of the worrisome reasons why India should have looked to bolster its attack in Durban. For someone who has played 52 Tests so far, he has looked more like a workhorse than a thoroughbred.
Having made his choice of bowlers, Dhoni’s captaincy skills will be tested to the hilt. He will need to work on getting the bowling combinations right by using his faster bowlers in short bursts rather in extended spells. It appears that the critics and fans’ doubts about India being competitive in South Africa have rubbed off on him.
It is also crucial therefore that Dhoni shows greater faith in Rohit Sharma’s ability to bowl off-spin than he did in Johannesburg where he came on bowl a couple of overs himself and got Virat Kohli to trundle his dibbly-dobbly stuff for a bit. Now, with Ashwin on drinks duty, Dhoni must try Rohit as fifth bowler.
I believe Rohit is an under-rated off-spin bowler and can deliver some useful overs, not just to ensure that the over-rate is respectable but also to lend variety and break partnerships. All said and done, India must go ahead and showcase that it actually believes it deliver a victory with a four-man attack.