Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin

Pragyan Ojha (left) and Ravichandran Ashwin could spell doom for England in the first Test © Getty Images

 

It’s been a while since the Indians have tasted a Test victory at Ahmedabad. Although India’s record at home has been phenomenal in the last few years, it’s startling that they haven’t won a single Test at the Sardar Patel Stadium in the last seven years. The Indians have always been well-equipped in the batting department, but the form of the openers has been a matter concern for a while. Nevertheless, spin has been the focus in the talk leading up to this series, and it remains to be seen whether the Indian spinners can live up to the pre-series hype. It’s the bowling that’s set to steal the limelight and reverse India’s fortunes at the venue.

 

India’s highest wicket-takers at Ahmedabad have been Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. The duo has played seven games each at this venue, registering 36 and 29 wickets respectively. Discounting India’s performance as a team, it must be noted that the spinners have had a bigger role to play on this ground. Kumble has retired and Harbhajan is not in the playing XI. In fact, Harbhajan’s selection itself was a huge shock, considering his protracted non-performance.

 

That brings Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha into the frame. Ojha has played just 16 Tests and has scalped 75 wickets. Nevertheless, he’s yet to play away from Asia. However, it’s evident from the above statistics that he is a force to reckon with in the subcontinent. 

 

Unlike Ashwin, Ojha has already featured in a Test at Ahmedabad a couple of years ago against New Zealand. It was a high-scoring game that eventually ended in a draw, as both India and the Kiwis scored over 450 in their respective first innings. There were two spinners who finished with impressive four-wicket hauls in that match — Daniel Vettori for the visitors and Ojha for India. Although Harbhajan was India’s frontline spinner back then, he finished with modest figures of one for 112 in 43 overs. Nonetheless, he scored 69 in the first innings and 115 in the second. It was during this series that Harbhajan recorded successive Test centuries. He flourished as a batsman, but failed to fulfil his primary responsibilities as an off-spinner.

 

On the other hand, Ashwin has been on the rise ever since taking field for his country in Tests last year. He is second only to Ishant Sharma in the list featuring the highest wicket-takers for India since the last two years. Considering the fact that injuries have pegged back Ishant since the last few months and that he won’t make the cut for the first Test against England, the onus is on Ashwin to deliver, yet again. Ashwin has played half as many Tests as Ojha, but has an even better strike-rate than his spin partner. With 49 Test wickets already under his belt, Ashwin has struck every 52 deliveries as compared to Ojha who picks a wicket every 69 balls.

 

The time has come for Ashwin and Ojha to shoulder additional responsibility and prove that they indeed can be a thorn in the flesh of world-class batsmen. They have a positive outlook and are willing to learn, and such performers are always good to have in a team. Recently, Graeme Swann opined that the English batsmen have lesser conundrums to be worried about since India does not possess a mystery spinner who can exploit the weaknesses of their batsmen. While that could be true, it’s important to note that even in the past, India never relied on a mystery spinner to wreak havoc. Ashwin reiterated this fact when he recently stated in an interview that you don’t have to be a mystery spinner to take wickets.

 

Moreover, looking at the combined efforts of Ashwin and Ojha for the last couple of years, it’d augur well for the English batsmen to play the duo with caution. With 124 wickets in 24 games between the two, Ashwin and Ojha could by all means turn the tide in favour of India at Ahmedabad.

 

(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)