A spinner-less India A squad is to take on England in the first practice game. This gave rise murmurs that pace-friendly tracks would be employed in the tour matches - a ploy to shield India’s spin weapons.
Yes, Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha have been brilliant at home in the last two series - against West Indies and New Zealand. But England will be a stronger opposition than the men from the Caribbean and the Kiwis.
Indeed, India’s pacemen will have a pivotal role to play if it has to win the series. If one looks at some of India’s recent home series wins, one would find that the fast bowlers had a critical role to play.
Zaheer Khan has been dominant at home – even in unfriendly conditions. His skills with the old ball were more than handy as he would come in the later stages to dent the opposition’s batting and come up with match-winning performances.
Ishant Sharma and Shantakumaran Sreesanth, too, have done their bit in the recent past. The big worry, however, is that Zaheer’s overall form has nose-dived, Ishant is working his way back post-injury and Sreesanth isn’t on the radar because of a niggle.
Through all that, it is Umesh Yadav whose progress has been heartening. Along with Varun Aaron, he represents India’s hopes for a genuine tearaway and has lived up to those expectations so far. While Aaron battles injury problems, Yadav has established himself as India’s No 2, behind Zaheer. He may be a bit too expensive, but is an effective wicket-taker. It would be worth playing him. It is the early part of his career and he will improve as he plays more Test matches.
As CricketCountry’s Chief Writer, Arunabha Sengupta pointed out in his article, Zaheer has picked only 18 wickets since making a comeback in Australia late last year. Statistics show that it is a sharp decline when compared to his phenomenal figures from 2007-2011. What is worrying is that it has coincided with Ishant’s decline. The tall right-armer was brilliant in the West Indies last year and carried that form into the first two Tests in England. However, since then he has failed to pick more than two wickets in a match.
Ishant may only be 24 years old, but he has played 45 Test matches – a significant number. His talent is obvious and has the pace to trouble the batsman. From the young man who announced his arrival at Perth in 2008, his career hasn’t unfolded as one expected. He is far from living up to his potential and performing consistently for India. A career bowling average of 37.87 doesn’t do justice to that prodigious ability and is too high for someone who has played 45 Tests.
Despite the long-lay off due to injury, Ishant was picked as the third-seamer for the Test series against New Zealand. However, he hasn’t been named in the India A squad to take on England in the warm-up game. Thus, he would play for Delhi in their Ranji Trophy opener which starts on November 2.
Irfan Pathan, Ashok Dinda, Parwinder Awana and R Vinay Kumar would have the opportunity to push Ishant for the third-seamer’s role in the India A game. In all likelihood, India will only play two seamers in the Tests – Zaheer and Yadav being the obvious choices. The remaining spot would be for the bench. In fact, given Zaheer’s struggle and the uncertainty over Ishant’s form, the Indian selectors may be a bit worried and would watch the practice game with keen interest, even as some of the batsmen stake their claims.
Dinda seems to be the frontrunner in the quartet as he has been in fantastic form in domestic cricket. He had a decent tour to Sri Lanka with the Indian team and has been impressive this year. Pathan is the sort of player who is always in the fray, but there is always a dilemma over his Test spot. His bowling has been good in the limited-overs and he may need another domestic season to prove his credentials for the classical format. Vinay Kumar and Awana are the outside contenders.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni would hope that Zaheer gets back into good rhythm and rallies India. He must provide India a good start with the new ball and follow it up with a skilful performance with the old ball. Umesh too must build on his promise and help make the task easier for the spinners. It isn’t just the form of the openers that is worrying, but India also needs its fast-bowlers to rise to the occasion.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site's YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_