India could miss a trick by not playing Pragyan Ojha at Hyderabad

Pragyan Ojha, despite being India’s highest wicket-taker against England a couple of months ago, could sit out of the Hyderabad Test too, since it would be difficult for the powers that be to comprehend how he could possibly fit in this ‘settled’ unit © AFP

By Karthik Parimal

After what seems like an eternity, the Indian Test team is making headlines for all the right reasons, at least for the moment. The game at Chennai quenched almost every desire — a Sachin Tendulkar cameo, Virat Kohli ton, Mahendra Singh Dhoni double-hundred and the sight of homeboy Ravichandran Ashwin running through the opposition with his brand of off-spin. They pummelled a hapless Australian unit quite emphatically.

“With three Tests to come, this looks like a very settled batting and bowling combination,” said Dhoni after India’s victory.

But, has every crevice been filled? Not really. Certainly, there is scope for the bowling line-up to be bolstered. Perhaps replacing one left-arm spinner with another could do the trick.

The curious case of Pragyan Ojha

Sometimes, it’s best not to decipher a team’s selection, primarily because no answer will eventually tend to be satisfactory. Pragyan Ojha, who was made to warm the bench — and not for the first time — at Chepauk, despite being India’s highest wicket-taker against England a couple of months ago, could sit out of the Hyderabad Test too, since it would be difficult for the powers that be to comprehend how he could possibly fit in this ‘settled’ unit.

“They [Australia] had lots of left-handers and we assumed the wicket will turn and often it is said the away-going spinner is quite difficult to play. That was one of the reasons we said let’s go with two off-spinners and one left-arm with [Ravindra] Jadeja doing the job,” stated Dhoni on Ojha’s exclusion. It must be noted that Jadeja was picked over Ojha, owing to the former’s abilities with the bat.

However, former Indian opener Aakash Chopra’s tweet best answers the team management’s logic. “Don’t agree with ‘too many left-handers theory’, for England mostly had right-handers, did Ashwin miss out? Play your best bowler i.e. Ojha,” he aptly tweeted.

Ojha was indeed India’s highest wicket-taker in the series against England. With 20 scalps under his belt at an average of 30.85, he was India’s best bet against the gritty Englishmen. Even Ashwin, who was touted to be the leader of the pack prior to the commencement of that series, struggled. He averaged over 52 and took just 14 wickets from eight innings. But the latter was persisted with, and the move paid rich dividends in the first Test against Australia. Why can’t the same faith be meted out to Ojha?

Will Ojha be snubbed again?

Unless the think-tank decides to feature four spinners, Ojha, by all means, could miss the Hyderabad Test, since Dhoni has already hinted at fielding the same side for the remainder of the series. There is a possibility of Ojha’s morale being dented by this shuffling, since the message that is indirectly being conveyed to him is, “Look. You have been our best spinner since the last few months, but we have to leave you out since your inclusion could upset the team’s balance. Sorry about that.”

Jadeja has been handy with the ball, but only when the pressure is being taken off from the other end by a spinner like Ashwin. Whether he can lead an attack and create opportunities on his own, when the other bowlers are not up to the scratch, is debatable. Including him in the side on the basis of his batting abilities, just to have a safety net, is not a sensible solution.

Moreover, there is no guarantee that Jadeja’s spin will be efficient on the wicket at Hyderabad. Yes, the last Test played at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium concluded within four days and 18 of New Zealand’s 20 wickets fell to the spinners, but one must not forget the fact that it houses one of the flattest tracks in India.

Ojha’s familiarity with the conditions could prove to be a boon, but whether the management will be flexible enough to make the change remains to be seen. As Erapalli Prasanna — former Indian spinner — rightly said in an interview to the Mail Today, “The wicket in Chennai was definitely under-prepared and on such wickets, anybody can pick wickets. But I don’t think the Hyderabad wicket will be on the same lines, so it is important to have Ojha back in the team.”

Also, the Australian team will not be so naïve as to ignore their deficiencies. Handling spin would have been their top priority in the days leading up to the Hyderabad Test, and keeping in mind the kind of attitude with which they approach each game, there is little doubt that they will look to negate the threat posed by spinners henceforth in this series. Despite the absence of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey in the middle-order, they have the ammunition to put up a fight and eke out a draw, if not a win. Roping in Ojha would only augur well for India, and would maximise their chances of going 2-0 up in the series. India can afford to drop a bowler of such caliber — a bowler who has 53 wickets in his last nine Tests at home, at an average of 24.66 — at their own peril.

(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