Acid test for Ashwin and Ojha; curious case of No 6
R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha may have had a phenomenal home Test series against the West Indies, but their real test will be in Australia, where the pitches are more suited to pacers, feels Manu Shankar.
So the selectors have sent a loud and clear message to Harbhajan Singh. The off-spinner did not fit into their scheme of things, and was axed, dropped, ignored (call it what you want) from India's team that will tour Australia next month.
For Bhajji fans, it's a big lump to swallow; but, then again, cricket is not a game to be played with emotions.
Harbhajan, unfortunately, cannot run from the fact that his recent form is, simply put, mediocre. While other so-called lesser spinners are bagging wickets aplenty in the Ranji Trophy, the Punjab spinner has just two for 204 runs to his name from the three matches he has played this season.
But, having said that, surely, the Krishnamachari Srikkanth-led selection panel could have given him a chance; after all, after VVS Laxman, Harbhajan is the only Indian who got under the skin of the Aussies (Sachin Tendulkar's contribution is an open secret) the last time India toured Down Under.
Image: Harbhajan Singh
Ashwin, Ojha were terrific in WI Test series
So, why was he not picked? Is India going to Australia with a relatively inexperienced spin attack?
Yes, the spin department is inexperienced, but in Pragyan Ojha, who got the selectors' nod with consistent performances against the West Indies, and Ashwin, who's been the talking point ever since Harbhajan's form dipped, the team has exceptional spin talent that can trouble the Aussies.
Ashwin's fabulous Test debut series against the West Indies, in which he snapped 22 wickets and even scored a century, made him a certainty for the tour.
And could Ojha be overlooked after finishing the series with 20 wickets. Indeed, the challenge for the duo begins now.
Image: Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin
Not a happy hunting ground for spinners
Australia, like England, is not a happy hunting ground for spinners -- especially off-spinners. Harbhajan has just nine wickets to his name from Down Under, while his record against the Aussies in India is an enviable 81 wickets from 12 matches. Even the great Muttaih Muralithran struggled Down Under, and so did Graeme Swann.
M S Dhoni will find it difficult to choose between Ashwin and Ojha in case the team decides to go in with a solitary spinner.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground may be the only possible venue where India will go in with two tweakers; at the rest of the venues, it should be three pacers and one spinner.
Perth, Sydney and the Adelaide Oval are traditionally fast-paced pitches and it's highly unlikely that India will go in with two.
Image: Graeme Swann
Zaheer's fitness pivotal for India's success
The fast bowling department looks well-settled, the only question mark being Zaheer Khan's fitness. Sure, the Indians would love to have him back in the side.
Praveen Kumar was impressive in England and Umesh Yadav has caught the eye of many former players with his showing in the recently-concluded Tests against the West Indies, and a lot is expected from Ishant Sharma, who was the find of the last tour Down Under.
The fast pitches should suit the likes of Zaheer, Ishant and Umesh, but in case the former breaks down, the relatively inexperienced pace attack will be under tremendous pressure.
Image: Zaheer Khan
Toss up between Rohit and Kohli
Coming to the batting, while top five slots are fixed with the experience they come with, there will be stiff competition for the crucial No. 6 slot.
Ever since Sourav Ganguly quit the international scene, it's been a bone of contention in many series. In the past, the team has gone in with the likes of Yuvraj Singh, who only impressed in patches; Suresh Raina, who scored a century on debut against Sri Lanka, and, more recently, Virat Kohli, who has had a mixed start to his Test career.
But none can argue with the fact that while both the left-handers (Raina and Yuvraj) were found wanting against the short-pitch stuff in England, run-machine Kohli has forced himself into the side with sting of good performances in the limited-overs format.
Rohit Sharma, too, is having a phenomenal domestic season, so picking him was a wise choice, though Kohli is likely to get the nod ahead of him, considering his recent performances against the Windies.
And, don't be surprised if you get to see two keepers in the playing eleven, if both Rohit and Kohli flop, although that's highly unlikely. That will be an interesting toss-up between Rohit, Kohli and Wriddhiman Saha for the No. 6 slot.
All in all, it's a good selection. The selectors have gone for form, rather than reputation.
Image: Virat Kohli