India v Australia
Fourth Test, Delhi, 22nd-26th March
Preview by Chetan Narula
A week is a long time in cricket. During the last seven days, Shane Watson was out of contention for the third Test at Mohali, along with three others, amidst reports of indiscipline. Then he flew home for the birth of his child, making comments about retiring from international cricket. Now he is back, wanting to play a role in Australia's bid to save face in the final Test at Delhi.
The circle hasn’t turned completely though, yet. There is the slim chance that Michael Clarke might not play this last Test (it got slimmer as he did attend the pre-match press conference) and in that case, Watson will lead the side. Sure he is the vice-captain of the side, but, whichever way you look at it that’s a heady turnaround for someone who was disciplined in the manner of axing, literally.
This isn’t about Clarke and Watson alone though. Mohali was perhaps Australia’s best performance of the tour, when they made the first innings count and then fought well with the ball in the second innings. Even in India’s first innings, after Shikhar Dhawan's blitzkrieg, they made sure the rest got out quickly. In that the hosts showed some consistency, for only one big partnership has been carrying them in all matches so far. That has been the difference between the two sides.
Clarke will want his bowlers to break that one partnership as well and the law of averages certainly points at a total Indian collapse. However, for that to happen, some consistency is needed in the bowling attack selection and that is where the Australians have been found wanting.
Due to a lack of quality spin options in their ranks, they have chopped and changed, playing three different combinations in three matches. It hasn’t worked.
For this last Test of the tour, they will once again go in with a different combination, thanks to Mitchell Starc’s injury and the return of James Pattinson. Feroz Shah Kotla has a history of pitches where the ball keeps low. On first look, the wicket is as dry as the ones rolled out in the previous three Tests. If it does play as per tradition, then the Australian batting order will struggle once again, against India’s spin and slow bowlers, most of them in-form.
Apart from Starc and the small question mark over Clarke, the rest of the players are available for selection, even Matthew Wade. It provides a nice selection headache in comparison to the situation previously, when they had only 13 players available. Even so, it won’t be an easy task picking the best 11 to deny India a 4-0 score line.
Talking of that, it must be mentioned that a year is an even longer period of time. And an 8-0 score line is ever more intimidating. Least of all, let it also be said that Indian cricket as a whole has not forgotten and not moved on from that unprecedented thrashing.
It got more painful as the BCCI lost track of its enquiry into the losses on those two away tours, thanks be to IPL and the selection merry-go-round. Then England came along, inflicting another crushing loss at home. It almost felt like breaking point.
Truth be told, the Indian team still has a lot of problems, with regard to an unsettled combination, an unknown number six batsman and a bowling attack that doesn’t have a back-up. But they have been able to tide over these, solving the opening conundrum, and come out triumphant. 3-0 will be remembered for a long while, for this Australian side is one of the weakest to land on these shores. The question though remains: will it be 4-0?
Issues abound, such as the absence of Shikhar Dhawan, whether to rest Cheteshwar Pujara’s dodgy knee and to rest Ishant Sharma after a long home season. They don’t really count as selection headaches but aren’t so trivial as to be denied one day before the Test match.
Ajinkya Rahane will be baffled by the selection of Suresh Raina, as Gautam Gambhir fell sick and missed his return ticket. What if Pujara is asked to open and Raina selected ahead of him?
What of Pragyan Ojha? Should he be retained, never mind how many left-handers Australia play in their eleven? Or should Harbhajan Singh be given a last chance as India takes a break from Test cricket?
Surely, all of this forms only the backdrop of just another Test match. For Indian cricket as a whole though, it is a little more than that. It is a chance to reduce the burden of that 8-0 score-line by half. It is a shot at redemption. Mahendra Singh Dhoni must go for the jugular.
© Cricket World 2013
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