By Karthik Parimal
If anything, the match against England has sent the Indian think-tank into a tizzy. Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla were roped in since the clash was deemed to be a dead rubber, but their bowling display against a formidable batting line-up cannot go unnoticed. Despite the fact that these are good problems to have for team India, it remains to be seen if Mahendra Singh Dhoni indeed persists with the successful combination of five bowlers and six batsmen. Also, the other big question that could probably haunt him is whether he can afford to drop a player of Virender Sehwag’s calibre to make way for an extra bowler at this juncture of the tournament.
The Sehwag factor
As Michael Hussey aptly pointed out, Virender Sehwag can never be out of form. It’s just a matter of one good innings, and with Sehwag you can expect it to come any moment. Also, the fact that he’s a big match player will make matters just a little more dicey for Dhoni. India currently doesn’t have a better opening combination than Gautam Gambhir and Sehwag, and it’s unlikely that Irfan Pathan would be made to open in the forthcoming fixtures, considering the fact that all games hereafter would be high-pressure games.
Rohit Sharma, too, is a contender for the opening slot in Sehwag’s absence, but he’s just beginning to turn a corner and to expect him to partner Gambhir at this stage would be unfair.
But dropping Harbhajan Singh could backfire. He’s someone who can wreak havoc once he finds his rhythm, and his figures of four for 12 against England would have just been the shot in the arm he needed. It’d augur well to pick him in order to keep the momentum going.
Moreover, spin has already played a major role in this tournament, and the Indians will back themselves in this department considering the ammunition they have. England’s batting line-up featured some noteworthy names, but they faltered in a big way when it came to playing the spinners. India plays its next game against Australia, and apart from two or three batsmen, they too are fidgety against spin. A player like Michael Hussey could be an asset, as his modus operandi of keeping the scoreboard ticking by working the ball in gaps during the middle overs could neutralise the threat a little. But apart from him and a couple of others, the rest are susceptible against spinners. Same is the case with South Africa.
If there’s one team the Indians will have to be wary of, it’s Pakistan.
Pakistani batsmen, not bowlers, could be a threat
India’s litmus test in the Super Eights could come against its neighbours. There’s no denying the fact that Pakistan’s success during recent times can be attributed to its bowling unit more than anything else. The likes of Saeed Ajmal and Umar Gul are probably the best in the world today and have won umpteen matches for their side, but since the last few games, it’s the batsmen who’ve saved the day for them. The Indians got a taste of their own medicine in the warm-up fixture against Pakistan, and memories of that game will still be fresh in their minds.
The big dilemma for Dhoni would perhaps arise prior to this crucial clash. Whether to play an extra batsman in order to negate the threat posed by the Pakistani bowlers, or whether to play an extra bowler to get the better of their batsmen, is something he’ll have to figure out as quickly as possible.
Will Dhoni adapt different combinations for different games?
It’s obvious that Zaheer Khan will rightly make his way back into the side for Ashok Dinda, and likewise, Ravichandran Ashwin for Piyush Chawla. Considering Sehwag’s current form with the bat, the sensible thing to do would be to play Harbhajan Singh and trust the middle-order to fire. Moreover, the lower-middle order has hardly come into the picture since the last few games, and rather than letting a spot go unused, to fill it up with an extra bowler could come in handy.
The other option would be to play two spinners and two seamers alongside seven batsmen against Pakistan, and go with the additional bowler against Australia and South Africa. It’s an interesting problem to have, and it remains to be seen if Dhoni’s tactics can work magic yet again in a mega event.
(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/karthik_parimal)