CRICKET / Pressure on Sehwag; Vijay will be under scrutiny after twin failures
The weather here is dry and hot and batsmen who do not use their feet could face more heat as the ball turns and jumps on a dry surface in the second Test of the four-match Border-Gavaskar series.
And given the composition of the sides — the make-up of the attacks in particular — it is Australia which could find itself enmeshed in a web of spin again. The cricketing mercury levels could soar once the close-in catchers throw themselves around and vociferous appeals fill the air.
With India leading 1-0, the match beginning at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium here on Saturday, is pivotal to the outcome of the series. And Australia has to recover from the mental scars inflicted by the spinning ball and Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s buccaneering double century at Chepauk. India has the psychological edge in these conditions. Australia needs to find urgent solutions.
Host’s problem areas
This said, the host has problem areas as well. Opener Virender Sehwag’s scores in his last eight Test innings read 25, 30, 9, 23, 49, 0, 2 and 19. Even conceding that Sehwag’s style of batting comes laden with risks, these are hardly the kind of returns expected from an established Test opener.
Sehwag will feature in the XI once again but has to clean up his act. At 34, Sehwag has reached a phase where all-out aggression might only occasionally pay; it is a case of diminishing returns.
Sehwag’s partner Murali Vijay too will be under scrutiny after twin failures in the first Test. Vijay will get another opportunity here but will have to make it count. The right-hander has to settle into an ideal batting rhythm.
Of course, Sachin Tendulkar will be the cynosure. His last appearance here against Australia, in 2009, saw Tendulkar conjuring an inspirational 175 in an ODI. Will the maestro, as at Chepauk, make the years fall away again?
Leader of the pack
With Ravichandran Ashwin emerging as the leader of the spin pack, India is expected to retain the same spinning combination.
Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh could once again get the nod ahead of left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha owing to the number of left-handers in the Australian line-up. This said, Harbhajan requires to bowl with greater consistency. There were times in the first Test, when he was too quick through the air and consequently tended to drop the ball short.
And left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, who bowled with a fair measure control if not penetration, is expected to retain his spot.
With Dhoni coming in at No. 6, Jadeja’s batting lends balance to the line-up. But the young southpaw has to be decisive against speed.
India would be tempted to include home boy Ojha as the fourth spinner. On form, he is India’s best spinner with Ashwin and comprehends the track at Uppal well.
But then, managing four spinners is never an easy proposition. This is a scenario where skipper Dhoni could find it tough to rotate his bowlers and give them sizeable spells.
India could field two pacemen with Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s swing being in the mix with Ishant Sharma’s cut. In the past, the conditions here have encouraged swing in the morning; this factor could go in Bhuvneshwar’s favour.
For Australia, explosive opener David Warner, recovering from an upset stomach, practised with the side on Friday. The visitor, however, has a few selection worries.
Will Michael Clarke go in with either one of Nathan Lyon or Xavier Doherty or pick both in the eleven? The Australian captain said the surface here seemed similar to the one at Chepauk.
“The wicket looks as if it was prepared early. It is dry and spin is going to play a big part. It could also play up and down again,” Clarke said.
The visitors have the option of including Steven Smith as a batsman who could bowl a few overs of leg-spin to lend the attack variety.
There is also a case for Mitchell Johnson replacing another left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc.
Even on a sub-continental surface, the Aussies might seek to use Johnson as a battering ram.
Someone who hustles the batsmen and gets them out of their comfort zone with aggressive short-pitched bowling.
The teams (from) :
India : M.S. Dhoni (captain), V. Sehwag, M. Vijay, C. Pujara, S. Tendullkar, V. Kohli, R. Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, P. Ojha, A. Dinda, A. Rahane, S. Dhawan.
Australia : M. Clarke (captain), D. Warner, Ed Cowan, P. Hughes, S. Watson, M. Wade, M. Henriques, M. Johnson, P. Siddle, X. Doherty, J. Pattinson, N. Lyon, M. Starc, S. Smith, G. Maxwell, U. Khawaja.
Match starts at 9.30 a.m.