Pragyan Ojha (left) and Ravichandran Ashwin combined to take 16 of the 20 wickets to fall in the first Test match © AFP


By Nishad Pai Vaidya


Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, India’s new spin twins, have come up with an outstanding performances of substance in the first Test against the West Indies at New Delhi. The two young men were entrusted with the task of deceiving the batsmen with their art and they have answered the calls of the selectors in style. They have come into the squad ahead of the out-of-form veteran Harbhajan Singh and have staked their claims for a longer run in the side.


Harbhajan’s performance since the Galle Test against Sri Lanka last year has been disappointing to say the least. Since the said match, he has looked completely out of sorts and has been the shadow of his crafty past. An injury in England cut short his tour and the selectors decided to blend in fresh faces into the Test set-up for the West Indies series. While Harbhajan is back to domestic cricket trying to script a comeback, Ojha and Ashwin have dented his hopes by the sterling show in the first Test.


Harbhajan was a huge disappointment in his two games during the England tour. Had Ojha or Ashwin been included, the Indian bowling may have shown some more teeth on the disastrous sojourn. In fact, Ojha had a brilliant county season and in hindsight one can say that he deserved to play during the Test series ahead of Harbhajan and Amit Mishra.


While Ojha’s and Ashwin’s performances in the Delhi Test can be lauded, they need to continue this good work into the coming matches. Consistency is the key as both of them need to show that trend to completely settle themselves into the Indian Test set-up. It is far too early to say that India have found the new Anil Kumble-Harbhajan pair or that they have completely shut the door on the “Turbanator.” They need to continue to bowl productively and consistently to make themselves absolutely indispensable in the team’s cause.


However, one can say that the move to drop Harbhajan and include the new pair is the beginning of a change of guard for India. The catastrophic journey of England revealed a lot of chinks in India’s armor and they want to blend in the youngsters so that the team wouldn’t struggle to maintain a hold in the classical format by the time the stalwarts call it a day. The transition and the new outlook have started with the axing of the non-performing Harbhajan and the inclusion of the two young spinners. The Punjab spinner can still make a comeback, but for the time being it is Ojha and Ashwin who will run the show.


It is not just the spin bowling department that India have resources but they have the batting and the fast bowling talent in the cupboard for the future.


When it comes to the batting, India has youngsters such as Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma to take over the mantle. Kohli may have had a horrible debut Test series in the West Indies earlier this year, but he has looked a completely different player since then. He seems to be more matured and had molded himself into a cool headed dependable batsman. On the other hand, Rahane has been fantastic in the opportunities he has got in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs). His technique and temperament indicate that he has the goods to succeed in the classical format.


Pujara and Rohit haven’t had Lady Luck on their side. Rohit made a good comeback to the Indian team during the ODI series in the West Indies earlier this year, but an injury abruptly ended his stint in England. In his latest Ranji Trophy game for Mumbai he has again highlighted his class and ability for the longer version by scoring a big hundred and one can say that he would get into the Test side at some point in the future.


Pujara started off his career in fine style by playing a match-winning knock on Test debut against Australia. Since then he has played just two Tests in South Africa. An injury during the Indian Premier League (IPL) kept him out of contention for the subsequent Test assignments and he would be eager to stage a comeback and seal his spot.


On the fast bowling front, India have found two bowlers who can consistently bowl over the 140 kmph mark. Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron have shown the ability to send down thunderbolts which can rattle the batsmen. Yadav did well in the ODIs against England and his spell in the second innings at Delhi would do his confidence a world of good. He ran in hard and bent his back on a placid surface and managed to make crucial inroads for India. Aaron has played just two ODIs but impressed with his control. It would take him some time to be ready for Test cricket but there are no doubts that he is one for the future.


However, the team management have to make sure that they do not go the Munaf Patel way. Munaf was once touted as the fastest bowler in India but has slowed down drastically as the years have progressed. India need genuine quicks and Yadav and Aaron hold the key. They need to be supported and encouraged to run in and bowl at some serious pace.


The man who has gone almost unnoticed at the Delhi Test is Ishant Sharma. The local boy was very unlucky early in the Test match as he kept troubling the batsmen without getting any rewards. Even a well set Shivnarine Chanderpaul was having his problems playing him during the first innings. Ashwin and Ojha may have stolen the show, but there is no denying the fact that Ishant was brilliant as he put in a hundred percent behind every delivery. On the whole the Indian bowling looked an effective and penetrative unit which augurs well for the future.


It is clear that India have the young talent to move ahead in Test cricket. One may say that the team may struggle a touch once the old guard retires but they musn’t forget that the batting and bowling is in very capable young hands with great promise. The future is bright for India!


(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-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.”)