As expected, a couple of losses have brought out the knives against Team India. The blame has been placed on batting, bowling, captaincy, lack of practice, disharmony in the team, and myriad other factors. Suggestions and advice have been pouring in from everywhere.
These suggestions involve simple things like dropping VVS Laxman for Rohit Sharma, to more radical ideas like R Ashwin opening the batting!
Since virtually everyone has jumped in on the bandwagon, I thought of joining in too. But my solution (or should I call it suggestion) to the Indian team is far less drastic.
I would like to see the Indian team go unchanged to Perth, with a small reshuffle in the batting order - Kohli at 5 and Laxman at 6. There are a number of reasons behind this line of thinking, and I'll state them thus:
A. Fours Bowlers vs. Five Bowlers
I don't see any reason to change the status quo unless we discover a new bowling all-rounder in the ranks. And while Ashwin's performances with the bat do show promise, it is far too early to call him an all-rounder already. The drubbing at SCG has made everyone cry hoarse about India's bowling resources, and it's been conveniently forgotten that at MCG, Sehwag had called this very same bowling unit the best that he had ever played with.
While I don't think it's the best ever of Sehwag's time, but I still do think that it is quite good. They took 20 Australian wickets at MCG, and if the WACA pitch offers assistance as is being claimed in the media, I think they are quite capable to picking 20 more there. They are well-rested now after having been in the field watching Australia score a mammoth score, and most importantly, there are no injury concerns (at the moment).
Zaheer Khan has been leading the attack well. Umesh Yadav has been inconsistent and a little wayward, but I think he can be relied upon to pitch the ball up. In the second innings at MCG, his lines were not that good, but he grabbed 4 wickets because of his length. Ishant Sharma is, in my opinion, the biggest concern because he finds it difficult to change his length, and at a venue like Perth, his natural short-of-a-length balls will seem a lot shorter than they do at other venues.
There are talks of dropping Ashwin and going for Ojha or a fourth seamer... but I don't think that is a very good idea. Maybe, Ojha for Ashwin is an option worth considering, but definitely not a fourth seamer! I don't think either Abhimanyu Mithun or Vinay Kumar will add a lot more value than R Ashwin in the team. As for Ojha, the main reason for considering him is that the Australian right-handers pose more of a threat than the left-handers. Zaheer Khan with the new ball is very potent against the left-handed top-3 of Australia. But with Michael Clarke hitting form and Ricky Ponting hitting a ton, a left-arm spinner might be of help more than an off-spinner.
B. Laxman At 6
Laxman's numbers at No. 5 are very similar to his numbers at No. 6. Averages of 49.00 at 5 and 50.18 at 6 show that he is quite comfortable at both these positions. However, from the team's perspective, I think it is beneficial to have him at 6 rather than 5.
There are a number of benefits of having him bat at 6. Firstly, it adds experience in the lower middle order of India's batting, which has been prone to collapsing even after being given a good platform by the top- and middle-order (read 1st innings at MCG). Secondly, it separates India's Big 3 - Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman. When they are bunched together at 3, 4 and 5, one bowler bowling a fiery spell with good rhythm can get rid of all of them. With Laxman at 6, it offers a break between India's 3 best batsmen's batting positions and protects them from one inspired spell of fast bowling.
C. Kohli At 5
Virat Kohli is young - in terms of both age and experience in Test cricket! Currently, when he comes out to bat, he comes with the knowledge that there is just a struggling MS Dhoni and the tail to follow him. With him at 5, he will know that there is an experienced batsman in the form of VVS Laxman to follow, and will allow him to play in slightly lesser pressure. At No. 5, he will almost invariably bat with one of the Big-3, and if he survives that partnership, he will get a chance to bat with another member of the Big-3. These experiences can only help to calm him and grow as a cricketer.
D. Kohli vs. Sharma
All those people calling for Rohit Sharma to replace Virat Kohli need to realise that Rohit Sharma is not a saviour sent from heaven for Indian team's cause. In shorter versions of cricket, Sharma has flattered to deceive in the past, and that is why Kohli got his chances in the first place. Since Kohli capitalised, it is fair that he be given his chances in Test cricket too... even if they are chances to fail!
The most baffling point is that I don't see any reason why Rohit Sharma can come into this lineup and do something that other batsmen cannot do! Sanjay Manjrekar says that this step makes "long term sense"... but right now, the team's goal is a very short-term one - i.e. to arrest this slide in Australia and put India's away Test cricket on surer footing. The time for long-term measures will start after this tour, when India will play at home for a long time. For the present short-term goal, lets stick to short-term solutions and show faith in these players!
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