Having read the comments on my previous post, I decided to post my thoughts on the team selected for the first test against the WI.
Lets talk about the good things first. It was a great move to drop Harbhajan from the test squad as well. This shows that the selectors are not hesitant to tell him what they think about his performance of late. He has been riding on past glory for a while now, especially in tests, more so because of the 2 hundreds he made last year against NZ. But one thing I like about Srikkanth is that he always speaks his mind, even if it may lead to a little controversy. Giving Ashwin a chance over Harbhajan is a very good signal that the selectors are looking beyond Bhajji for better options and it should spur Harbhajan to work on his bowling and try to force his way back to the team, if he takes it in the right spirit. He has stopped bowling the doosra for some reason, which used to be his trump card to take wickets, especially in test matches. Without that weapon and with his new propensity to fire the ball flat, he was not going to take wickets in tests for India, so it is a great decision to drop him and pick Ashwin instead. I am sure Ashwin will do well. But he needs to attack a little more. He is an attacking bowler by nature, but in tests, bowlers need to attack even more than in ODIs and T20, to take wickets. Dhoni needs to give him attacking fields and let him know that his main job is to take wickets, even if he goes for a few boundaries in the process.
Another good decision was the one to include both Aaron and Yadav in the test setup. It shows that the selectors and Dhoni are looking for pace, which is good, especially considering the Australia tour that follows the WI series. One more good thing is, with Harbhajan gone, India will finally give a chance to Pragyan Ojha. In my opinion, Ojha is another cricketer who needs more chances and who deserves to be in the squad. He has not done much wrong in the chances he has got, though he needs to take more wickets to be considered seriously. Given that this series is taking place in Indian conditions, this is his best chance to impress.
Now lets look at the not-so-good decisions regarding team selection. I was shocked to see Praveen Kumar left out of the squad altogether. When he debuted in tests in England, he did quite well. In fact, besides his bowling, it was his batting that impressed. With him around, India were not blown away as soon as the 7th wicket fell, as PK would throw his bat and get a few crucial runs. I understand that PK wont get much swing in India, which has been given as the reason for his exclusion, but PK also keeps things tight and gets the ball to do enough to create doubt in the minds of the batsmen. He could also get some reverse swing, though that is doubtful given his lack of pace. To get reverse, bowlers need to bowl at a decent pace, preferably 130+, which PK does not achieve. But he could have easily been included in the squad in place of Rahul Sharma. Which brings us to the final dubious selection. In my opinion, it is a little too early to include Rahul Sharma in the test squad. I appreciate the selectors making note of IPL performances to spot future talent, but in this case, they seem to have taken the desire too far. If they wanted to include Sharma in the test setup, they should have tried him for at least 1-2 ODIs to see how he bowls in Indian colors against international opposition.
Even though IPL provides a test against lot of international talent, it is not the same as playing for your country against another country. For one, the pressure is much higher when you play for your country as opposed to playing for your club. Also, 10 overs will test a bowler more than 4 overs. Rahul Sharma needs to prove that he can take the pressure in ODIs against different opposition, before being selected to play test matches, which is the ultimate test for any cricketer. I dont think he will play in the tests, which means he is there merely to make up the numbers. If that is the case, the selectors should have gone with PK, who will not be there to make up numbers.
In the batting, the number 6 spot is a straight toss-up between Yuvraj and Kohli. Given the form he is in, and given that he has the extra motivation to do well against WI against whom he failed recently, I would go with Kohli for the first test. If India had another off-spinner or a leg spinner along with Ashwin in the first test, it may have tilted the scales towards Yuvraj due to his left-arm spin option. But Ojha covers that angle for us. Also, I would have Yuvraj play at least one first class match before bringing him into the test match lineup. It is never easy to come back from injury and the main thing any batsman needs is to spend time in the middle and feel balls hitting the middle of the bat on a consistent basis in match situations, not the nets. Yuvi has only had a couple of T20 matches as match practice after his return.
The only other spot that needs to be decided is that of the second pace bowler. Again, it is a toss-up between Yadav and Aaron. Given what I saw in the ODIs, I would pick Aaron over Yadav because he likes to bowl at the stumps, as opposed to sticking to a line outside off stump, which is what Yadav seemed to prefer. I did not see much movement from either bowler, but Aaron got some balls to bend back, which is a good sign. He can be very useful once the ball gets old and reverse swing comes into play. Also, India have always had a problem with cleaning up the tail of opposition teams, so Aaron's propensity to bowl at the stumps will be useful in that aspect as well. Lets see what the team management decides.
To respond to the comments by annonymous, I read the Fanie De Villiers interview as well and was impressed with his analysis of the game. I agree with him, that you dont need too much difference between your regular delivery and slower one, to induce mistakes from the batsmen. The point about getting batsmen caught at midwicket off the slower ball, brought back lots of memories about the number of times he did this to Sachin. At one point, he could almost get Sachin out at will with his slower one.
The WI test starts in less than a week. Lets hear it from you guys regarding the team selected and what you think should be the starting eleven for the first test match. I will try to post just before the start of the match with a little more about the starting eleven and the pitch and conditions and what India's strategy should be.