India's inexperienced bowling will have work cut out in Aus
Spin is going to play huge part on the upcoming tour of Australia, and, says Harish Kotian, India's young spinners R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha will have to adapt quickly and deliver.
The tour of Australia will perhaps be the biggest test of Mahendra Singh Dhoni's reign as captain. He has achieved everything on offer as skipper, including winning the mother of all contests, the World Cup, but victory overseas in a Test series against top opponents, like South Africa, England and Australia, still eludes him.
The upcoming tour also provides the Indian team a chance to prove that the disastrous tour of England was one-off, it is more than capable of challenging the top sides in Test cricket and deserves to be ranked among the top nations.
The selection of the team for the four-Test series was hugely debated, but, ultimately, the selectors played it safe, rewarding recent good performances with a berth in the squad, while ignoring past showing or experience.
Batting will again be India's strong point Down Under, though question marks remain over the bowling attack. This is one of the most inexperienced Indian bowling attacks to tour Australia and it remains to be seen whether the selectors' gamble pays off. Except for Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, the rest of the bowlers in the squad have not played Test cricket Down Under.
Image: MS Dhoni
Harbhajan's non-inclusion also did not come as a surprise
And Zaheer's inclusion is still not sure. If the veteran pacer proves his fitness in domestic matches and is selected for the Tests, the whole complexion of India's bowling attack will change.
No wonder the selectors wisely decided to test his fitness in a couple of domestic matches before naming him in the squad. Since Zaheer is known to break down with injury in the middle of every series extra precaution is being taken this time.
Harbhajan Singh's non-inclusion also did not come as a surprise after the superb showing of Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha in the recently-concluded Test series against the West Indies, where the duo picked 42 wickets between them in three matches.
Harbhajan is struggling in domestic cricket, having claimed just two wickets in three games for Punjab in the Ranji Trophy. Even if you consider the flat pitches that have been on offer thus far in his team's Ranji matches, the ace off-spinner is expected to have a better strike rate than 150.
It is also interesting to note here that the highest wicket-taker in Ranji Trophy this season is Karnataka's left-arm spinner K Appanna, with 17 wickets from three games, while leg-spinner Piyush Chawla is fourth with 11 wickets.
Image: Harbhajan Singh
Spin will definitely play a part
For India to give the Aussies a good fight, Ashwin and Ojha, whoever gets a chance, will need to replicate their recent success.
They need to talk to Anil Kumble or learn from his videos, because the former leg-spinner made a big impact on the fast Australian pitches, using the bounce to good effect, when he toured.
He claimed 20 wickets in four Tests during India's last tour in 2007-08, while in 2003-04 he took 24 wickets in three matches.
So spin will definitely play a part, and India's young spinners will have to adapt quickly and deliver.
Image: R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha
Aaron, Umesh could be handful
Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron's selection is also another excellent move by the selectors. The two youngsters can bowl consistently above the 140 kmph mark, and if they get their bearings right, they could be a handful for the Aussie batsmen.
As it will not be easy for a rookie to get going straightaway against the Australian batsmen, who will look to take the attack to the inexperienced bowlers, Ishant Sharma and the pacer who will be named in place of Praveen Kumar, who has been ruled out of the Test series because of a fractured rib, will have to shoulder a lot of responsibility and take the pressure off Zaheer, if he plays, especially in the first couple of matches.
Image: Umesh Yadav
The generation next
With Virender Sehwag back to full fitness and the experienced middle order firing on all cylinders, India certainly has the team to succeed in all conditions. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma also have a good chance to show they are the 'generation next' of Indian Test cricket and not just Twenty20 wonder boys.
In recent outings, the Australian team has looked a bit shaky, and, as South Africa proved recently, can crumble under pressure. Ricky Ponting has struggled to maintain consistency of late, while the rest of the batsmen have failed to live up to their billing in Test matches.
Both teams have a relatively inexperienced bowling attack and it will boil down to a contest between two strong batting line-ups.
With the appointment of Mickey Arthur as coach and several changes in administration, Australia is looking to regain their glory days. A series victory over India will serve as the perfect kick-off for the new regime.
For stalwarts like Sachin Tendukar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, the upcoming tour is a last chance to parade their skills and help India win its first series Down Under.
Image: Virat Kohli