After a captivating Two Test series against Sri Lanka, the hosts are ready for another showdown with an inexperienced yet a meaty Indian team. It has been a miserable three year period for Indians in Test Cricket. Since taking over as head coach in May 2011, the duo of Duncan Fletcher and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni have failed to win a single test match overseas apart from a solitary win in West Indies three years back. Another Big Test awaits the Indian team, full of hopes and aspirations as the younger stars take full control.
As the build-up of the high profile series continues, a catch-22 situation lies ahead for captain Dhoni.
• Gambhir vs Vijay – Gautam Gambhir’s comeback into the national test team has created problems for opener Murali Vijay who has been seen struggling of late. Apart from a grilling 97 run innings in Durban, he was found wanting against South Africa. His performance deteriorated on the New Zealand tour where he managed only 48 runs at an average of 12 in the two tests. He further harmed his chances in two warm up games against Leicestershire and Derbyshire by scoring 63 in three innings. Gambhir, on the other hand, got 75 in two innings. Apart from that, he is coming from a successful IPL season.
Though Gautam has experience of playing in England and some sort of form going in for him, it is likely that Dhoni will back Vijay for atleast two test matches.
• Ashwin vs Jadeja vs Binny – Despite being India’s No. 1 frontline spinner, R. Ashwin has struggled to make it big overseas. He has been criticised for bowling negative and defensive line to the batsmen and trying a lot of variations in one go which has hampered his wicket taking stock ball. He played only one match in South Africa and was benche dfor the New Zealand Tour. And if recent trends are to be seen, Ashwin in all likelihood is not in Dhoni’s mind for the first playing XI on this tour. It was a perfect opportunity for him to sweat it out in the warm up games but he was given only 14 overs to bowl in three innings, leaking runs at an economy of over 5 and going wicketless.
Ravindra Jadeja bagged 9 wickets in his last three away tests and did the bulk of the bowling in the practise games.
The new entrant Stuart Binny hogged the limelight early on his first overseas tour by smashing 81 runs against Leicestershire. He also bowled 19 overs and took 2 wickets.
This will be the biggest dilemma for the team management ahead of the Test match at Trent Bridge which is considered a safe home for seamers. Even England’s former spinner G. Swann had struggled on this ground despite his good form. If Binny is selected then India will go into the test match with four seamers and without a spinner, a practise seldom followed. And India’s win record has been absymal whenever this move is tested.
The other alternative is playing one spinner along with Stuart Binny. But, in that case, any one middle order batsman has to be dropped. Rohit Sharma will then have to sit out as Ajinka Rahane has been India’s prolific run scorer in the away Tests. Rohit had an ordinary Test series against South Africa and New Zealand but showed glimpses of form against Leicestershire. Moreover, shelving a batsman from an already weak batting unit in swinging conditionsdoesn’t look like a wise call.
• Ishant vs Pankaj Singh – India’s domestic cricket powerhouse Pankaj Singh has finally been rewarded with success and if everything goes well, the tall seamer sould well make his debut on July 9th. His impressive show against Leicestershire would have brought him in the good books of the captain and coach.
Regardless of Ishant’s brilliance in New Zealand, he had a nightmare game agaisnt the Leics, being smacked for four consecuitve fours at one point and looked completely out of rhythm. Inspite of that, he bowled the maximum number of overs in both games which is an indicator that the captain wants his most experienced seamer to play in the first test. Moreover, with Zaheer Khan not a part of the team, there will be serious lack of experience in the bowling department if Ishant sits out.
There will be many vexed questions for the team management to answer but if past record is anything to go by, the Indians will play it safe in the opener.
India XI (Likely) – Shikhar, Vijay, Pujara, Kohli, Rohit, Rahane, Dhoni, Jadeja, Bhuvaneshwar, Ishant, Shami.