Sunday, August 3, 2014

An English summer.. and honours even ?

We are more than halfway through The Big Test (as Star Sports dubs it) and it would seem that the honours are even at this stage. Certainly a scoreline of 1-1 would reflect that. This series was always going to be between two inexperienced teams, in transition but led by experienced players, facing off against each other. But that great fightback at Southampton has meant that England have all the momentum as the teams head to Old Trafford. And talking of momentum, it is not just on the field. England seem to have had the better of the off-field courtroom drama as well. The verdict in the Jadeja-Anderson affair has left the Indian team, and especially MS Dhoni red-faced and fuming (especially since he made a rare and a very public defence of his team-mate). Thus, it is MSD who has all the questions to answer before the last 2 tests. Just over a week back, he and his team-mates were celebrating one of the most famous abroad wins by an Indian team in recent memory and the headquarters of cricket. How things change in a week !!

The Indian team currently faces issues on two fronts : a) wrong team selection and b) having too many off colour players at the same time. The first issue, especially the non-selection of Ravichandran Ashwin has been written about in plenty. But still, it boggles the mind as to how Ashwin (with 104 wickets in 19 Tests) can be left out of this side. Dhoni's defence of the six-batsman theory at Southampton was laughable ('we did not use the fifth bowler anyways'). Dear MS, you did not use the fifth bowler (Binny) at Lords because you yourself did not think he was good enough at this level (and plus, the conditions there were good enough for four bowlers, the pitch at Southampton cried out for five bowlers). It is a truism as old as the game itself: to win test matches, you need to take 20 wickets. And for that, you need 5 bowlers on a regular basis (on most pitches anyways). With Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar showing good ability with the bat it was a great opportunity to slot Ashwin at No. 7 and play five genuine bowlers and not damage the batting (Ashwin has a batting average of 39.4 !). Hopefully, MSD sees the light of day before Thursday and we field our best playing XI and Old Trafford. The other issue is that too many players in the XI are off-colour. Dhawan, Pujara and Kohli together have played 18 innings and scored a grand total of 413 runs only (average of 22.94). Surely, no team can afford to have 3 out of its top 5 batsman with such statistics against a team with good bowling attack. As far as India's bowling is concerned, Mohammed Shami is a concern (5 wickets at an average of 73.2). To exacerbate the issue, Ishant will not be available for the 4th test, leaving too much for Bhuvneshwar and Jadeja to do. Again, crying out for the 5th bowler. My XI for Manchester:  Vijay, Gambhir, Pujara, Rahane, Kohli, MSD, Ashwin, Jadeja. Bhuvi, Pankaj, Aaron.

An added spice to the Old Trafford test would be to see how these teams see each other in the aftermath of the Jadeja-Anderson incident. One can be rest assured that they will come hard and sparks will fly. Hopefully, nothing untoward will happen and cricket lovers will see two very exciting tests ahead.

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