What Team India must do to save face in New Zealand
The venue for the second Test is the Basin Reserve in Wellington, traditionally a seamer-friendly ground. Considering the conditions, India needs to sacrifice a batsman to bolster the seam attack.
The best Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men can hope for is winning the second and final Test and squaring the series. Winning, though, says Bikash Mohapatra, will only mitigate the humiliation suffered, and not absolve the team of consistent underperformance.
At the outset, let's be clear about one thing. Team India's overseas drought, dating back to the series in the Caribbean in 2011, is going to continue for the time being.
The defeat to New Zealand in the opening Test at Eden Park, Auckland, following the 4-0 humiliation in the preceding One-day series, means the visitors can no longer win the Test series.
The best Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men can hope for is winning the second and final Test and squaring the series. Winning, though, will only mitigate the humiliation suffered, and not absolve the team of consistently underperforming.
However, it is easier said than done.
Team India has plenty to worry about
For starters, the venue for the second Test is the Basin Reserve in Wellington, traditionally a seamer-friendly ground. Considering all the 20 Indian wickets were surrendered to the Kiwi pace trio – Neil Wagner, Tim Southee and Trent Boult – at Eden Park, this is not good news for the visitors.
With Ish Sodhi failing to make an impact whatsoever in Auckland, it won’t come across as a surprise if the home team opts for a four-pronged seam attack by including Jimmy Neesham, with Corey Anderson providing a fifth option.
Of further worry is the fact that Team India has a pathetic record at the venue. They did win – the captaincy of Mansur Ali Khan ‘Tiger’ Pataudi – their first Test at the venue, back in February 1968, but have since lost four of the five matches played there.
Besides, Team India has plenty to worry about. The bowling may have worked in tandem in the second innings in Auckland – the home team being dismissed for just 105 – but that one performance cannot camouflage the inconsistency displayed in recent times.
Of the three Indian bowlers – Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami – only the latter was consistent.
Adding an extra seamer should balance the workload
Ishant was among the wickets alright, but they came at a premium. As regards Zaheer, it is safe to say reputation helps him stay as part of the side, the bowler having lost considerable pace and accuracy.
Not to forget that fitness continues to remain an issue with the Indian bowlers. For those who watch them minutely, it need not be said that the longer they bowl, the weary they appear, this weariness ensuring they become ineffective with a lengthier spell.
Adding an extra seamer should balance the workload considerably.
Giving a chance to Umesh Yadav, who definitely has more pace than Ishant, and Ishwar Pandey, who bowled beautifully in the tour game at Whangarei, as the fourth seamer, might just hold the team in good stead.
Also, the visitors need to sacrifice a batsman in a bid to bolster the seam attack.
Which batsman can make way for an additional seamer?
Going in with a seven-four combination doesn’t make sense on a seam-friendly wicket like the Basin Reserve, especially considering the fact that Ravindra Jadeja is very capable with the bat and has performed admirably in the series thus far.
This brings us to a very pertinent question: which batsman can make way for an additional seamer?
On current form, the toss up is clearly between Murali Vijay and Rohit Sharma.
Vijay failed in both the innings in Auckland. The 29-year-old has struggled overseas, and resting him will not disturb the balance of the side any which way.
A bit of experimentation might just do the trick
Either Ajinkya Rahane or Cheteshwar Pujara, two batsmen with technical proficiency and ample patience – virtues that few Indian players can boast of -- can be promoted to open the innings with Shikhar Dhawan.
Come to think of it, an opening combination of Dhawan and Rahane/Pujara will also ensure aggression and restraint in the right proportion.
However, should the think tank have a soft corner for the Chennai batsman and choose to retain him, then Rohit should make way. Despite his 72 in the first innings in Auckland, he has been ill-at-ease on this tour. A brief rest will help him recharge while balancing the team combination.
In the final analysis, the composition of team will go a long way in determining India’s chances in the game. The think tank, as such, needs to deliberate upon the same before deciding on the playing eleven.
It is already a lost cause; a bit of experimentation might just do the trick.