India v Australia - second Test, Hyderabad
Chetan Narula previews the match having watched both teams' final preparations for the match in Hyderabad.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni must be a happy man. It isn’t because of the 1-0 lead that India are enjoying in the four-Test series against Australia. It is a joy that reflects contentment, one that is derived out of your plans working to perfection.
At Chennai, India had a plan to attack the Australians, and counter-punch them, if they ever came under the cosh themselves. In both instances it worked out - Ravichandran Ashwin re-discovered his consistency in line, and by varying his pace through the air and off the pitch, made the batsmen unsure of the length of his deliveries.
Virat Kohli came up with a superlative hundred, Sachin Tendulkar batted in a positive frame of mind that was reminiscent of his pre-2011 form and Cheteshwar Pujara scored some crucial runs under pressure. Then Dhoni delivered the knock-out blow himself.
Chennai witnessed a special Test match as India truly dominated a tough-opposition for the first time since the winter of 2010, when they won a first ever Test match in South Africa. Getting thrashed 8-0 and then losing 2-1 at home to England hurts. And any such victories will only be a step in regaining some pride. Baby steps they might be, but what do they say: a win is a win.
As happy and settled the Indian team looked, it must be wondered out loud that this is a team combination they are not historically comfortable with. India have mostly preferred to play seven batsmen and in the last two Tests, they have gone with Ravindra Jadeja as the bowling all-rounder.
Dhoni admitted that his batting doesn't inspire confidence at present, and that just adds more weight to the captain's last two innings in this format. Moreover, playing four-plus-one bowlers is the way forward, atleast in the next three Tests.
Is it a lack of confidence by the captain in his bowlers? Is Dhoni uncertain that the likes of Ashwin, Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will be able to take 20 wickets? Will Ashwin be able to maintain his prolific form throughout the four Tests? Will Bhajji be able to step up his bowling or will Pragyan Ojha come into the reckoning at some stage?
If the Indian team’s net practice is any indicator, then they will probably go in with the same team as Chennai. Their bowling's wicket-taking ability may be subject to conjecture, but if there is a real worry for their batting line-up, it is the opening combination. Two Test centuries have come off the blade of Virender Sehwag since 2010, and none of his partners or replacements when he was out injured, have been able to conjure any. It is a worrying trend, and one that needs to be broken.
The India middle-order needs to put up big runs to cushion their attack and a major part of this responsibility lies on the shoulders of Sehwag-Vijay. It remains to be seen if the former’s newly re-powered hand-eye co-ordination is able to bring any output, but there is more pressure on Vijay. This will be his second Test running while Shikhar Dhawan sits out, waiting.
Elsewhere, Gautam Gambhir has scored a century for India A in one of the practice games and is also scoring well in one-day cricket for Delhi.
It is an apparent weakness for the Indian team, one that James Pattinson will be very eager to exploit. The young fast bowler was used for his pace and aggression in short bursts, and that - not using him towards the end of second day - was the second big mistake by the Australian team management.
Their first was going in with only one mainline spinner, in Nathan Lyon. It was a move that surprised even the Indian team. The pitch in Hyderabad is whiter in comparison with the Chepauk track, and seems a tough firmer. It is quite dry as well, but will probably not break up from the word go.
It is a case for Clarke to consider going in with two spinners, but the conundrum therein will be who to leave out then? David Warner has been declared fit to play and the tourists will look to retain the same batting line-up. If that is so, and they do go in with a second spinner, then Peter Siddle might be the one to make way. Mitchell Starc, albeit short on experience, has been their strike bowler this past season.
The temptation will be to back up the batting as much as possible, and there are two batting all-rounders in their squad in Glenn Maxwell and Steve Smith. Their abilities with the bat might just push Xavier Doherty behind, if Lyon retains his spot as the lead spinner. Quite clearly, the Aussie team composition is a bit of a riddle at the moment and Clarke might just be a confused man, given that he has a habit of announcing the final eleven a couple days prior.
Apart from Clarke's elegant hundred and Moises Henriques' stoic defence, the Aussie batting couldn’t put together a proper stand. It is imperative that they provide a bigger resistance to the Indian spinners hereon, for this is the key battle. Indian batsmen will always seem to have that advantage over the Aussie bowling, given their inadequacy in the spin department.
As much as the Indian openers, the visitors need to up the ante at Hyderabad. If the scoreline going into the third Test, at Mohali, is 2-0, there will be no coming back for Australia.
© Cricket World 2013
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