By Nishad Pai Vaidya
VVS Laxman’s retirement and the subsequent drama has overshadowed the build-up to the first Test between India and New Zealand at Hyderabad. While some mourned the end of a glorious association that saved India from crisis and did the unthinkable a number of times, others speculated on the possible reasons for Laxman’s retirement and his equation with Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The focus now shifts to the field of play – one where India’s youngsters would attempt to fill in the big shoes. However, the performance of the Indian spinners would also be closely monitored as the country yearns for success of its tweakers.
Pragyan Ojha and Ravichandran Ashwin sparkled when they last bowled in tandem in a Test series. During the Test series against West Indies last year, the two were a revelation as they ended up with a combined tally of 42 wickets. In Australia, Ashwin was the preferred choice while Ojha warmed the benches. Ashwin’s brilliant performance against West Indies rekindled hopes of having a good off-spinner in the line-up, but his returns in Australia were ordinary. But then the tour Down Under was a horrendous experience for the whole team and Ashwin has a chance to start afresh in home conditions.
In Australia, Ashwin’s numerous variations didn’t seem to trouble the batsmen too much. The pitches may not have been ideally suited to his craft, although he did have a decent spell in the last innings at Adelaide. On turning and crumbling wickets at home, his carom ball delivery and natural off-spinners would pose a bigger threat. If in any of the games, India choose to go with the lone spinner, Ashwin would be the preferred choice considering his previous performance at home and his consistent record in one-day cricket over the last 12 months.
Early in his career, Ojha lived under the shadown of Harbhajan Singh as the latter’s reputation earned him a spot ahead of the left-armer. Against the West Indies, it looked like Ojha had got his act together and was ready to take his game to the next level. His performances were fantastic, but Ashwin’s superior batting played a major role in the Tamil Nadu off-spinner’s ascent in the pecking order. Ojha used his biggest strength to perfection – he gave the ball a good loop to trick the batsmen into playing false strokes. He also got the ball to turn well and coupled it with length to create more deception.
The duo has to complement each other if India are to thwart the Kiwi batting challenge. It is important that they replicate their previous partnership in this short series and cement their spot in the eleven. A lot would also depend on the fast bowling attack – one that would be led by Zaheer Khan.
Then we have the intriguing case of Piyush Chawla. The leg-spinner’s selection was a bolt from the blue and least expected. He burst on to the scene in 2007 as a youngster with tremendous potential, but has failed to live up to that promise. A big problem is his tendency to be overly expensive in patches. It may not be a huge problem in Test cricket, but you cannot afford to concede runs in any format. It would be a blooming miracle if he is picked ahead of Ashwin or Ojha.
Spin-bowling has traditionally been India’s strength, but that department is in a transition phase now. Harbhajan was touted to take over when Kumble left, but his performances went downhill drastically. His comeback for the World T20 was bizarre to say the least. However, he has gradually upped the ante in county cricket and is picking wickets for Essex. Is he working his way back into the scheme of things?
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst 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 can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44 )