In 1971, the legendary pugilist Muhammad Ali made a comeback into the ring after a three-year hiatus to take on the then champion Joe Frazier. That bout was the best fight of his career — which he went on to lose. Ali started strongly, making those first punches count, but had no reply to Frazier’s continual blows that often left him groggy and eventually led to his defeat.
The Indians are in Ali’s position; they have dealt the initial blows but need to make Frazier-like moves to throw the Australians out of the contest.
The pitch in the Chennai Test proved to be a spinners’ haven from the first day and it only got better. Uneven bounce and unexpected turn made it a memorable Test for the Indian spinners. Ravichandran Ashwin, who looking completely out-of-sorts against England in the four-match Test series did exceedingly well to use the conditions to the fullest. In his first Test in Chennai, the local boy performed exceptionally to end with 12 wickets in the game. His performance turned out to be so immense, that the team’s dubious decision to leave Pragyan Ojha out did not hurt the team too much.
All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja too got the ball to turn and bounce awkwardly, giving MS Dhoni the option of bowling countless overs of spin without having to let the momentum slip away from his grip.
Harbhajan Singh cut a sorry figure in the first innings, but he did his confidence a world of good with a couple of scalps in the second essay, giving him a chance of surviving for another Test.
Thinking about the right combination for the next Test at Hyderabad starting on Friday, many would say that the team should go for what is often termed as the ‘winning combination’ and retain the same eleven, but here’s an opportunity for Dhoni to push Australia further down the dumps.
Recap and Reality
Not long ago, India played hosts to the then No 1 Test side England. The series opened with an easy victory for the home side at Ahmedabad, but complacency crept in. Dhoni involved himself in unnecessary scuffles with pitch curators and invited the wrath of a few ex-cricketers with demands for spinning tracks. After the success at Motera, things went spiralling down. England’s fight back was phenomenal and they deserved all the credit for the turnaround, but the home camp had a plethora of questions to answer.
India are in a very similar position. They’ve started the series on a positive note and earned themselves a win; but they would be aware that to write off Australia at this point would be to shoot themselves in the leg. Dhoni has no bad press around his this time, hounding him for answers and looking for an outburst. In fact, his double ton has put him on an insurmountable pedestal. His records-shattering knock has given him the opportunity to go into the second Test in a positive frame of mind without any off-the field disturbances.
Seizing the moment
The team has done well to put the Australians on the back foot and need to keep the pressure going. The Hyderabad Test will be the ideal time for Dhoni to deliver the second punch across Australia’s face. He needs to be bold, unsettle the current ‘winning combination’ and go for broke by bringing in Ojha into the side in place of Ishant Sharma.
A four-spinner attack will psychologically peg back the Australian batsmen even before they strap their pads on. The setting is perfect for Dhoni — Ashwin’s bowling is spot on, Jadeja is getting the ball to do a fair bit and Harbhajan too has only improved since the first innings. To add Ojha to this attack would mean to challenge the Australians and push them against the wall. While the Australian think tank ponders over including Xavier Doherty in the side, Dhoni needs to consider a fourth spinning option in Ojha, who was the only stand out bowler in the England series.
If observed closely, Dhoni is found to go into his defensive shell when he feels that his opponents are starting to read through his ploy and improvise. But, here’s a chance for him to take the situation by the scruff of its neck and dictate terms over the remainder of the series.
(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is an Editorial consultant at CricketCountry and a sports fanatic, with a soft corner for cricket. After studying journalism for two years, came the first big high his professional life – the opportunity to interview his hero Adam Gilchrist and talking about his magnificent 149 in the 2007 World Cup final. While not following cricket, he is busy rooting for Chelsea FC.)