India's humiliating seven-wicket defeat to England at the Eden Gardens not only saw the hosts trail 1-2 in the four-Test series, but also resulted in the axe being wielded by the selectors in the squad named for the fourth Test at Nagpur starting on December 13.
The wheels have come off horribly for the MS Dhoni-led team after their nine-wicket at Ahmedabad as Alastair Cook's England put on a classic exhibition of the manner in which Test cricket should be played at Mumbai and Kolkata. Cook has led by example and the rest of the team have done the job expected of them with either bat or ball. The same, unfortunately, can't be said of India, as Dhoni continues his struggle to inspire in the longest format and only a few players in the playing XI pulling their weight.
Heads had to roll after the defeat at Kolkata where India was outplayed in every department and the trio of Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh have rightly been dropped for the fourth and final Test match at Nagpur. Sachin Tendulkar and Ishant Sharma, though, should consider themselves lucky that they didn't meet the same fate.
The defeat at Kolkata was the first time since 1999-2000 that India has lost consecutive Test matches at home; and while both defeats have been marked by acute batting failures, the bowlers especially R Ashwin, have added to the misery by failing to take advantage of custom-made pitches. Ashwin has showed great determination with the bat and put some of the top order to shame; and while he may pushing his case for promotion in the batting order, his main job is with the ball, and 11 wickets at an average of 52 and strike rate of 95.3 are disappointing returns.
The 34-year-old Zaheer, who took four wickets at an average of 53.25 and strike rate of 132.7 in the first three Tests against England, is the biggest casualty following the loss at Kolkata; and this is the first time he has been dropped from the Test side after his comeback in 2006-07. Zaheer has not only lost his pace, swing and guile; but his fielding has also been terrible for a while now.
Yuvraj came back to the Test squad for the series against England after scoring a double century in the Duleep Trophy, and that was taken as proof of his fitness for the longest format. His selection may have been an emotional decision, but Yuvraj yet again failed to take the chance to cement his place in the Test team as his return of 125 runs with a highest score of 74 in five innings against England illustrates. It wouldn't be too wide off the mark to state that Yuvraj's Test dreams may all but be over and he will have to be content with being a success in the shorter formats in international cricket.
Shifting focus to the Nagpur Test where India has pride to play for as they look to level the series, your writer reckons Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Parwinder Awana and Ashok Dinda should feature in the playing eleven.
Rahane has scored 5291 runs at an average of 63.74 in first-class cricket, but despite this, has found himself warming the benches in the first three Tests of the series. The 24-year-old has shown he has the technique and temperament for the five-day format, and with a resurgent Australia the next team to tour India, Rahane has to be given the opportunity to showcase his talent on the international stage. Barring injury or an adverse dip in form, Rahane will be part of India's squad for the home series against Australia, and it's time he is rewarded for his consistency in first-class cricket and given a taste of Test cricket.
Though Rahane has said he is flexible with either opening the innings or batting in the middle order; he should partner Virender Sehwag at Nagpur and help lay the foundation for India. This despite the fact that Rahane has been picked as a middle-order batsman in the squad for the series against England.
Rahane would replace Gautam Gambhir, who has been in patchy form, and was responsible for two crucial run outs - Sehwag and Cheteshwar Pujara - at the Eden Gardens, that cost India dear in Kolkata. This would be a message to Gambhir that not only does he need to work on running between the wickets but also send out the larger note that stupid mistakes will not be tolerated.
Ravindra Jadeja is a like-for-like selection for Yuvraj, and his inclusion appears largely driven by his impressive numbers in the ongoing Ranji Trophy season where he has scored two triple centuries and also taken 20 wickets so far with his left-arm spin. He has leapfrogged two specialist batsmen in Manoj Tiwary and Rohit Sharma, who have been on the fringes of Test selection for quite some time; but, the fact of the matter is Jadeja hasn't inspired confidence in international cricket and has shown he isn't a top six batsman, and, at best is a part-time bowler. Jadeja is almost certain to make his Test debut at Nagpur, but will have to play out of his skin to prove his worth against a top international Test team.
Parwinder Awana has had a decent Ranji season and is reputed to be a nippy fast bowler, and though there are a couple of other options that could have been considered, the Delhi pacer should be a good pick; and in my suggested line-up, he would share the new ball with Ashok Dinda, as long as the Nagpur pitch isn't a rank turner. Ishant may have been unlucky in parts at Kolkata, but for the most part, he is still struggling for rhythm and just doesn't look like getting among the wickets.
The selection of Piyush Chawla in place of Harbhajan Singh is a reality check of the bare cupboard in the spin bowling stocks. Chawla's bowling averages over the last three seasons have cross the 40 mark, with that figure being 48.33 in the ongoing season. Amit Mishra would have been a better selection, but for a country that has been proud of its spin bowling tradition, the future looks rather bleak in that department.
The selectors have made a statement by dropping three experienced players from the squad for the Nagpur Test; but they need to show their intent. And, even if it means playing an inexperienced team and running the risk of losing the series to England, Gambhir and Ishant should find themselves on the bench for the series finale. It's now high time to look towards the future and reward consistent performers on the domestic circuit, and there is no better place to start than Nagpur. Tendulkar retains his place only because there's no apt replacement for the No. 4 slot in the squad named for the fourth Test.
SUGGESTED XI FOR NAGPUR TEST: Virender Sehwag, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, MS Dhoni, Parwinder Awana, Ashok Dinda, Pragyan Ojha.