By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Harbhajan Singh’s disastrous form has drawn trenchant criticism for a while from the cricketing world. But after two successive Test defeats, in which Harbhajan was pedestrian as a bowler, cries for his head reached a new high. Mercifully, he is out of the Test series with an injury, paving the way for Pragyan Ojha to be flown in as reinforcement.
An injury seemed to be the only possible way to eject Harbhajan out as Indian team management continued to play “The Protectionist”. Harbhajan’s place in the eleven will now be a toss-up between Amit Mishra and Ojha.
It is important that India play one spinner in the line-up despite a few suggestions of an all pace attack if the Edgbaston wicket is seamer friendly. The spinner will add variety into the attack as both Mishra and Ojha are wicket-takers. One must also consider the fact that the last time a Test match was played at Edgbaston, the spinners from both sides picked up five wicket hauls.
When England and Pakistan faced each other in August 2010 at Edgbaston, Saeed Ajmal bowled out England in their first innings for 251 with figures of 5 for 82. Swann’s 6 for 65 in Pakistan’s second innings helped England restrict Pakistan from setting up a competitive target.
Amit Mishra has been part of the squad from the start of the tour. He played in the tour game against Somerset and picked up three of the five wickets India claimed in the entire game. His biggest strength is the way he teases the batsmen with his length. Usually, he gets the ball to pitch around the corridor of uncertainty, where the batsman is unsure whether to play it on the front or the back foot. One of his biggest plus points is the way he pitches the leg-spin and the googly in that corridor. This makes it very difficult for the batsman to gauge the turn and also to decide whether to go forward or wait back. His flight adds to the element of deception.
Ojha, on the other hand, is a left-arm spinner who wasn’t originally a part of the squad. A few days ago it was announced that the English county Surrey had acquired his services, but the India call-up means that his destination in England has changed. Ojha’s last Test was against New Zealand in November last year. Since then he has been with the team on the tours to South Africa and West Indies but didn’t get to play a Test. With the selectors preferring to carry five fast bowlers and two spinners to England, Ojha missed out on being part of the original squad.
Ojha is a classical left-arm spinner. He uses flight and turn to good effect and, like Mishra, he can consistently pitch the ball in the corridor of uncertainty. It’s difficult to choose between the two spinners.
In Mishra’s favor is the fact is that he has been in England with the squad from the start of the tour. He also played a game on this tour where he was impressive. He was also impressive throughout the last Indian Premier League (IPL) season and the tour to the West Indies. In all probability, he will play the tour game against Northamptonshire. It was natural to assume that Mishra would have made it into the eleven in case Harbhajan is left out, but the call-up of the left-arm spinner has complicated things for him.
The biggest factor in favor of Ojha’s selection is the fact that he is a left-arm spinner – a variety that Kevin Pietersen does not fancy, even if it’s only a Yuvraj Singh. Pietersen is an impact player who can shift the momentum in England’s favor big time. At Lord’s he showed that he can play the waiting game and then unleash his range of shots. However, his weakness against left-arm spinners is well documented. This factor alone could pip Ojha ahead of Mishra to the post.
Mishra merits a place in the eleven more than Ojha. It would be a gamble to play Ojha with the sole aim of tackling Pietersen. The tour game at Northampton becomes very crucial to decide which spinner plays at Edgbaston. If Mishra does well, he should walk into the eleven for the third Test. But if Ojha manages to adjust quickly on arrival, he will make his case stronger.
All eyes now on the Northampton game.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")