A big test for Dhoni


Listen carefully and you will notice that the Australian cricket team has been extremely careful about the noises made in the run- up to the Tests in India.

Their captain Michael Clarke is a mature man, having made his debut in India almost a decade ago. There has been no mention of the Ashes series but the focus on the India tour has been sharp.

If Australian cricket is in the process of rebuilding, it has every reason to be pleased. Australia are no longer a side which boasts of star personalities but is a team which has done well to win five Tests in the last 12 months and drawn three.

Yet, all such statistics fade into insignificance when it comes to Test series in India. The intensity of India- Australia series since 2001 has been razor sharp.

Clarke’s scores in 2012 have indeed been sensational as scoring even triple hundreds has been made to look so easy. He will look to extend that form to India.

Scoring runs by the tons at home has been his strength, though on wickets expected to assist spinners as desired by Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Aussies will find the conditions vastly different.

It is one thing to do well at home and another in India where the weather, conditions and atmosphere will be different for the Aussies. They will draw inspiration from the fact that England won the Test series in India earlier this winter. They will believe that they also have a chance to do well this time.

The Aussie bowling attack has a hard task on hand and its reliance on the fast- medium bowling of Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc, and the spin of Nathan Lyon and possibly one more youngster could hold the key.

As far as the Indian team is concerned, Dhoni cannot consider himself to be in a position of strength even while playing at home. We saw how when the Englishmen were here, the Indians got exploited and the players did not know where to hide their faces.

The touch of solidity which one associated with the Indian batting when the stalwarts took guard at home is missing. For all those who bayed for the blood of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, the replacements have been simply inadequate.

While there has been an intense debate at home on who should fill the vacancies created by the exit of the stalwarts, I am happy the selectors have plumped for Shikhar Dhawan in place of Gautam Gambhir.

Much is being made of Gambhir’s omission and for a batsman battling low confidence the break should do him good as he has gone back to the drawing board to iron out the deficiencies in his technique against the ball outside the off- stump.

The selectors have obviously given Dhawan’s success in domestic cricket some weight and how the left- hander adds value with the other opener, right-handed Virender Sehwag, who has probably been placed on notice too.

At the same time, while much is being made of Suresh Raina not being drafted into the Test squad, I feel his inclusion would not have been merit- based. Looking at his record in previous Tests, he has an average below 30. More importantly, he does not seem to have developed the technique to deal with short- pitched stuff by the quicker bowlers.

Agreed, Raina has scored runs in recent times, but in the ODI format. Batting in ODIs and Tests is as different as cheese and chalk, so the selectors would possibly be looking at Ajinkya Rahane filling that vital slot where Yuvraj Singh failed, unless they see Ravindra Jadeja as the all- rounder.

I had written last week about the woes of the Indian fast- medium attack which is battling injuries. Ishant Sharma has to shoulder the load now and at the other end it could be Bhuvaneshwar Kumar ahead of Ashoke Dinda.

But Harbhajan Singh's entry into the Test squad is mysterious. There was no great evidence that he has found his form. Clearly, the selection committee led by Sandeep Patil has plumped for Harbhajan just because he has a good record against the Aussies.

The way R Ashwin has lost his touch and fails to flight or spin the ball is a worry for Dhoni. The skipper lacked ideas against England, and it is time for him to motivate the team. How he utilises the spin attack on designer tracks will be watched with interest as left- arm spinner Pragyan Ojha has also been a disappointment.

It could have made sense to include a leg- spinner in the attack but obviously Harbhajan has something going for him.

For Dhoni, this is a big Test series. He lacked ideas in captaincy against the Englishmen. It is time for Dhoni to motivate the Indians now.

And what of Sachin Tendulkar, a man who is now being praised for hundreds in the Ranji semifinals and in the Irani Trophy? This could well be his last Test series at home and he is indeed lucky the selectors have again given him a chance.

But given the mood of the selectors, if the God of Indian cricket does not do well against Australia, he may have to hang up his boots.

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