With India losing two Tests in a row for the first time since 1999-2000, it was certain that the selectors would come down hard on a few players. Harbhajan Singh was most likely to get the axe, considering the off-spinner had done little to justify his selection in the squad. Yuvraj Singh’s inclusion for the series against England was always going to be dicey, but nevertheless, it was a risk worth taking. However, the exclusion of Zaheer Khan was not totally expected and this is the first time he’s been dropped from the Test squad since his comeback in 2006-07.
For the last six years, Zaheer has shouldered responsibility and spearheaded the Indian attack in praiseworthy fashion. With Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh’s potency to fall back upon, the need to chalk out a plan for the future of the bowling department was often put off. Even after Kumble’s exit, the Indian attack was a formidable one at home, but ever since there was a decline in Zaheer’s ability to take wickets on a consistent basis, problems began for India. As Arunabha Sengupta wrote in one of his recent articles, “Since the day he hobbled off at Lord’s, clutching his painful hamstring, the results have been increasingly alarming.”
On the other hand, Ishant Sharma’s constant tryst with injuries hasn’t helped him get to the next level yet. He was seen as an apt candidate to fill in Zaheer’s boots when he was newly drafted into the side, However, that seems to be materialising at snail’s pace. Since the tour of England last year, Ishant has featured in 12 Tests with just 22 wickets to his name, at an appalling bowling average of 68.45. His career average too doesn’t make for a pleasant reading, as it stands at 38.17. That does not augur well for someone who is considered as a frontline bowler.
What the Indian fast-bowling department currently needs is a bowler who is hungry to prove his worth on the big stage. That is where the likes of Ashok Dinda and Parvinder Awana can be a huge asset. Awana’s attitude has been impressive ever since his rousing performance during the fifth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Prior to that, he was one of the highest wicket-takers in the 2011-12 domestic seasons, but remained out of favour with the selectors. ”Obviously, when you get 57 wickets in the domestic season, you expect a call. I was hurt initially, but this rejection has made me more determined to perform even better in the next domestic season,” he said in the May of 2012
Needless to say, his efforts have paid rich dividends. With two five-wicket hauls in the ongoing Ranji Trophy already, Awana could just turn out to be the right man for the moment. He has bowled more than 180 overs in this tournament at an average of 22. Moreover, his timely innings of 74 against Karnataka is proof that he is no mug with the bat, and India could do well with a few lower-order batsmen willing to put a price on their wicket. The selectors have made a good move by roping in him for a struggling Zaheer.
However, the lack of depth in the spin department remains a cause for concern. Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha are no doubt India’s best spinners at the moment, but there are hardly any others to fall back upon when need arises. The inclusion of Piyush Chawla for the final Test provides perfect evidence of that fact. With just nine wickets this season at an average of over 48, Chawla managed to find a berth in the side. The visitors have tackled spin aggressively for a major part of this series, and it will be interesting to see how Chawla reacts to the pressure exerted, since his ability to crumble when the going gets tough is well known.
The Indian bowlers have failed to make early inroads at Mumbai and Kolkata and that has cost them dearly. Early exposure to spin has only helped the English batsmen get acquainted to it quickly. Someone like Awana or Dinda could hence come in handy at Nagpur, and if they can approach this contest with the same zeal they showed on the domestic front, it could augur well. The only way India can draw level in this series is by picking twenty English wickets, and only time will tell if this bowling unit is capable of that.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/