Monday 4 August 2014 

India's Dilemma - Second Chances Or Debuts?

Shikhar Dhawan looks behind after being dismissed
Shikhar Dhawan is one player whose place must be under scrutiny heading to Emirates Old Trafford
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

After a dismal showing in the third Test at The Ageas Bowl which resulted in their third largest loss by runs in a Test match against England, India are definitely looking to make some changes in their line-up for the fourth Test at Emirates Old Trafford.

Injuries and niggles to their main bowlers are also not helping the matter. They already look thin with respect to experience in the bowling department after the injury to Ishant Sharma and that list may grow in the coming days.

Batting is still a concern because although India achieved a respectable draw in the first Test and won the second Test at Lord's those were achieved mostly by some mindless England batting in one session and the batting heroics of their lower middle-order by players like Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Stuart Binny and Ravindra Jadeja.

In the top order though, only Murali Vijay has showed some form with two classy knocks. The other opener Shikhar Dhawan looked dreadful with uncertainty in playing balls moving away from his body. He is averaging 20.33 in the series which is below par despite scoring 37 in the second innings of the third Test, his highest score in the series.

Gautam Gambhir could be a potential replacement but how well can he perform? Gambhir was deservingly ICC Test Player of the year in 2009, but his fall from grace started around India’s previous England tour in 2011. After three years without a Test century Gambhir was finally dropped from the India team in the winter of 2012.

Series Stats - India batting

Runs Average
Murali Vijay 364 60.66
Ajinkya Rahane 270 54.00
Bhuvneshwar Kumar 228 45.60
Cheteshwar Pujara 190 31.66
Ravindra Jadeja 173 28.83
MS Dhoni 169 28.16
Shikhar Dhawan 122 20.33
Virat Kohli 101 16.83
Stuart Binny 88 22.00
Mohammad Shami 79 19.75
Rohit Sharma 34 17.00
Ishant Sharma 26 13.00
Pankaj Singh 10 10.00

In his last first-class match against Karnataka in the Irani Trophy in February, Gambhir scored just 22 and nine. He started the Indian Premier League in terrible fashion scoring one run in the first four matches and although he led his team to the title his form was patchy and largely inconsistent.

In England, he batted once each in both the practice matches and although he was unbeaten in both innings, he did not get the big score which could have lifted his confidence.

The key issue with Gambhir during his struggle was the little dab shot he plays towards third man. In limited overs cricket it is a good percentage shot which gave him plenty of runs but in a Test match in front of express fast bowlers and with a slip cordon in place for virtually the entire match that shot brought about his downfall more often than not.

It’s not clear how well Gambhir is batting in the nets but unless he eradicates this technical glitch from his game it will be difficult for him to succeed at the highest level of the game again.

MS Dhoni, the Indian captain, generally tends to stick to his preferred side and with Gambhir not doing anything special to make his case it looks like Dhawan may get another chance to impress.

The other area of concern is India’s middle order, speciifically positions three and four. It is not at all helping that both Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli are not contributing much.

Pujara is still playing well and at least looking to spend time in the middle, Kohli on the other hand is looking awfully out of form with a series average around 17 - below the batting average of Mohammed Shami in this series.

But both of these are very talented, young Indian batsmen and they are two good to fail for a long time. Rohit Sharma got his chance in Southampton but failed again with questions raised once again on his ability to concentrate for long periods.

One outrageous option India could consider is to let Naman Ojha, their replacement wicket-keeper, make his debut at Old Trafford as a specialist batsman. Ojha is in terrific form with one double-century and two centuries in his last three innings in first-class cricket, playing or India 'A' against Australia 'A' in Brisbane in July. 

Although, it has to be said that at this point it looks quite a long shot.

Series Stats - India bowling

Wickets Average
Bhuvneshwar Kumar
15 23.00
Ishant Sharma
10 28.50
Ravindra Jadeja
8 48.00
Mohammad Shami
5 73.20
Murali Vijay
1 32.00
Rohit Sharma
1 58.00
Pankaj Singh 0
Stuart Binny 0
Shikhar Dhawan 0

For pace bowling the biggest concern for India is the fatigue factor for Bhuvneshwar Kumar, their player of the series. If he cannot cope up with his worn-out limbs and niggles and has to sit out for the fourth Test that would be a massive setback for India.

With Ishant already ruled out India could end up playing a completely inexperienced bowling attack.

Along with Shami, India have Pankaj Singh, who made one of the worst debuts in cricket history last week; Varun Aaron, who played his only Test in 2011 and has been pretty much out of action for last two years due to various injury and Ishwar Pandey who is a good domestic bowler but yet to be really tested at the international level.

Among them Aaron could be preferred because of his reputation to generate speeds of 140 kph consistently although his two outings in the practice matches saw him go wicketless.

A similar kind of bowler with relatively more success is Umesh Yadav and it is surprising that he was not included in the squad which is extremely short of international experience.

The final dilemma for the Indian team is to decide whether Ravichandran Ashwin deserves a place in the team or not. Despite a very successful home record Ashwin seems to have gone down the picking order for the away Tests.

Recently, Dhoni has shown more faith in the other Ravi, Jadeja, who looked quite ineffective in Southampton and cricket experts like Ian Chappell have shared their observations identifying flaws in his bowling.

Ashwin is definitely a better bowler than Jadeja. It was quite unfair to him when he was dropped after just one wicketless Test match in South Africa.

India squad

MS Dhoni (captain), Varun Aaron, Ravichandran Ashwin, Stuart Binny, Shikhar Dhawan, Gautam Gambhir, Ravindra Jadeja, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Naman Ojha, Ishwar Pandey, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Pankaj Singh, Murali Vijay

With most of the England batsmen coming back to form the stability from Ashwin at one end could be a key for India's bowling in next two matches. His batting average is close to 40 and that can also add a buffer for a faltering middle order. This is one selection India should definitely go for the fourth test.

The fourth test begins on Thursday (7th August) and things will become clearer when India get back to their full practice regime. Generally the team gives enough clues in those sessions with those in the playing 11 going through more intense net sessions than the rest.

This is still a young team finding their feet in international cricket and we may see a couple of new inclusions trying to establish a place in the side during the next Test match in Manchester.

© Cricket World 2014

Fixtures & Results

9th-13th July: 1st Test, Trent Bridge, Nottingham
India 457 & 391-9 dec. (Binny 78) drew with
England 496 (Root 154no, Anderson 81)
17th-21st July: 2nd Test, Lord's, London
India 295 & 342 (Vijay 95, Jadeja 68) beat
England 319 & 223 (Sharma 7-74) by 95 runs
27th-31st July: 3rd Test, The Ageas Bowl, Southampton
England 569-7 dec. & 205-4 dec. beat
India 330 & 178 (Ali 6-67) by 266 runs
7th-11th August: 4th Test, Emirates Old Trafford, Manchester
England 367 (Root 77, Buttler 70) beat
India 152 & 166 by an innings & 54 runs
15th-19th August: 5th Test, The Kia Oval, London
England 486 (Root 149no, Cook 79) beat
India 148 & 94 by an innings & 244 runs
25th August: 1st ODI, Bristol
Match abandoned without a ball being bowled due to rain
27th August: 2nd ODI, SWALEC Stadium, Cardiff
India 304-6 (Raina 100, Woakes 4-52) beat
England 161 (Jadeja 4-28) by 133 runs (D/L)
30th August: 3rd ODI, Trent Bridge, Nottingham
India 228-4 (Rayudu 64no) beat
England 227 (Cook 44) by six wickets
2nd September: 4th ODI, Edgbaston, Birmingham
India 212-1 (Rahane 106, Dhawan 97no) beat
England 206 (Moeen Ali 67) by nine wickets
5th September: 5th ODI, Headingley, Leeds
England 294-7 (Root 113, Buttler 49) beat
India 253 (Jadeja 87) by 41 runs
7th September: T20I, Edgbaston, Birmingham
England 180-7 (Morgan 71, Hales 40)
India 177-5 (Kohli 66) by three runs