The ongoing India-Australia Test series has been the best of the lot that India has played this season. India was expected to steamroll the visiting Australian side but the proceedings have been surreal.
In keeping with the riveting action on the field, there’s been plenty of action off of it as well. If Bangalore offered the DRS related incident with Steven Smith, Ranchi witnessed the Virat Kohli injury scare and several other sub-plots that emanated from it. And now, with the Australian media comparing Virat Kohli with President Donald Trump, it’s almost as if the tourists are leaving no stone unturned to win the series.
While sledging is part and parcel of the game, mocking the Indian captain’s injury is unsportive and surely is in bad taste. Such actions take the spotlight away from what has truly been a highly competitive series.
As was the case with Ranchi, it’s time for Dharamshala to make its Test debut. The pitch appears to have a decent covering of green grass and one can only wish that it holds up well through the course of the Test. With the curator still working the pitch, last minute changes can still be expected before the coin is tossed.
The game plan
Conditions at the high altitude of Dharamshala will surely favour the fast bowlers. And if the track’s reputation of aiding fast bowlers is to be believed, the pace battery on either side will be waiting to head out with a spring in their stride.
As the team’s close out their battle plans, the conditions will be weighing down heavily on the captains’ mind. Virat Kohli, in particular, will be tempted to revisit his bowling line-up. At Ranchi, India’s spinners were over bowled and fatigue showed in the manner they approached the task on hand. The Indian skipper has previously preferred playing five bowlers and at Dharamsala, chances are that he might revert to his tried and tested theory.
Picking up 20 wickets is always a key to winning a Test match and therefore, an extra bowler will always help India’s cause. And now with Ravindra Jadeja and Wriddhiman Saha
coming to the party with the bat, India may well be tempted to pick the extra bowler it missed dearly at Ranchi.
If the hosts do decide to pick the extra bowler, chances are that they will play a seamer in keeping with the weather conditions and the pitch. The management will be tempted to field Bhuvaneshwar Kumar.
A fit Mohammad Shami would have been ideal for this surface. Although he has shown signs of having recovered and is travelling with the team, he wasn’t named in the squad for the final two Tests.
Bowling to a plan
If India is to upset Australia’s apple cart at Dharamsala, exploiting the conditions on offer would be vital. The fast bowlers will have to concentrate on bowling a line just outside the off-stump. This is a line that will have to be followed religiously to Steven Smith.
Drying up the runs is a ploy that always works and India will have to play that card. At Ranchi, Handscomb used his feet well and rotated the strike. India would have to plug the leaks, frustrate the batsman and coax them into making errors.
At Ranchi, during large patches of the Australian innings, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav seldom employed the bouncer. The surprise short delivery is the most potent ball in the fast bowler’s arsenal. The odd bouncer at Dharamsala should augur well for the Indians as no batsman loves having to guess the next delivery on offer.
The conditions will offer swing in the first session. Swinging the ball away from the batsmen and getting them to edge it to a packed slip cordon will be a strategy that I would advocate.
Spin has been the key to India’s success through this season and the hosts would like R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to step up for one final act. The off-spinner should make sure that batsman play him on the front foot at all times. This would require him to employ the loop in his deliveries – something that was surprisingly missing in the second innings at Ranchi.
As for Jadeja, his template would remain unchanged. He will keep the batsmen rooted to the crease, keep them guessing and dry up the runs. He’s had a splendid season and a final act beckons that talented all-rounder.