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India tour of New Zealand 2014: Bowling combinations will determine India’s success

Ravichandran Ashwin (in picture) might lose his ODI spot to Amit Mishra or Stuart Binny during the New Zealand tour © Getty Images
Ravichandran Ashwin (in picture) might lose his ODI spot to Amit Mishra or Stuart Binny during the New Zealand tour © Getty Images

By Devarchit Varma

Indian selectors named as many as five fast bowlers in the squad for the five-match One-Day International (ODI) series against New Zealand, which begins on January 19. While the roster gives Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Indian think-tank a good opportunity to try out the new talent, it will be crucial to see what combination India would play in the series. On the other hand, Ravichandran Ashwin’s slump with the ball remains a concern for the Indians and the presence of Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja in the squad threatens his place.

The five-match ODI series begins at Napier with the top-ranked Indian side taking on the eighth-ranked New Zealand from January 19. While the Indian side will be confident of their chances Down Under, the bowling department is one area which has troubled the side a lot and Dhoni and the team management will aim to make the necessary amends keeping the tougher tours this season in mind, and also, the ICC World Cup 2015, which begins in a year’s time.

In the fast bowling department, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar look certain in the playing eleven. While Shami has the ability to generate pace and bounce off the pitch and also move around the ball a little bit, Bhuvneshwar’s ability to bowl at a good line and length and be economical plays in his favour. However, the lack of wickets that the Uttar Pradesh seamer has grabbed in the past few ODI games has been a concern and Bhuvneshwar would like to end the wicket drought in New Zealand.

India are known for playing three fast bowlers and a spinner when they play abroad, and with Shami and Bhuvneshwar occupying the first two spots, the other bowlers, Ishant Sharma, comeback man Varun Aaron and Ishwar Pandey are in a contention for the third.

One might opine about Ishant that his fortunes haven’t changed that much in international cricket since the Faulkner-episode, and the lanky seamer has a long way to go to rediscover his sparks of brilliance in the past. Indeed, the magic that he displayed in Australia in the 2007-08 tour is a thing of distant past and seldom has the Delhi pacer inspired India to a win. If not a win, Ishant’s mistakes have cost India heavily and his refusal to take over the mantle of the bowling attack hasn’t worked in his favour as well.

However, the experience which the 25-year-old right arm pacer boasts of could help him to retain his spot in the playing eleven, and the four wickets that he grabbed in the final ODI in Centurion against South Africa could tempt the Indians to play Ishant. Another critical aspect would be not to fiddle with the bowling attack by fielding an inexperienced one, which too acts in favour of Ishant.

History is replete with the facts that MS Dhoni-led India hasn’t played anyone fresh who has just been named in the squad. Pandey might have enjoyed success in the domestic circuit, but the young paceman from Madhya Pradesh may have to wait a little bit to make his debut. Dhoni, while talking about Stuart Binny’s selection did welcome the move but also said that his performance in the training session could determine his selection, and it won’t be surprising if the India captain applies the same logic behind the selection of Pandey as well.

Aaron is coming off from a long break, one that lasted for 15 months. He has played only one Test and four ODIs so far, and is yet to gather the necessary experience in the international circuit. He has proved fitness and form in the Ranji Trophy games and his presence in the squad might tempt India to field him as an answer to New Zealand’s Adam Milne. Both these bowlers are young and fresh, and carry humongous hopes of their respective sides. Aaron did well to not to rush his comeback and the training camp in Austria indeed helped him to further develop his skills.

In the spin department, India look assured of playing only one spinner. Ashwin’s poor form which saw him being dropped from the final ODI against South Africa and also the second Test during the tour has raised an alarm for the right-arm spinner. At the same time, the presence of Mishra and Binny in the squad threatens his place. Mishra’s 18 wickets in the five ODIs against Zimbabwe was a record-levelling effort, whereas the all-rounder Binny too is capable to topple Ashwin from the spot.

Binny can move the ball around a little bit and also is a good batsman, as seen in the Indian Premier League (IPL). It would make more sense if India play both Binny and Jadeja, as the former can handle the responsibilities of the fourth seamer and the latter can continue to take wickets with his left-arm spin.

India are set to begin an extremely crucial season, wherein they won’t be playing much on the domestic turf apart from the IPL and the World Cup will begin in an year’s time. What they would be aiming is a settled bowling unit and the real test for everyone in the roster begins now, as the season is only going to get tougher.

(Devarchit Varma is a reporter with CricketCountry. He can be followed on Twitter @Devarchit)

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