“India seem somewhat prone to selection errors”
It is impossible to say for sure but India’s loss at Perth might have simply been due to a case of bad decisions by its selectors. An injury forced Rohit Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin out of the second Test. In their place India chose to play fast bowler Umesh Yadav and batsman Hanuma Vihari. Both are good players capable of stirring feats on the pitch. But both were erroneous selections.
Hindsight, we know, makes everything clearer, yet I would wager that India’s cause would have been better served by fast bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja.
Quite simply, Bhuvneshwar is the best new-ball bowler in India and one of the best in the game. Anyone who dares to doubt his quality as an opening bowler has not been paying close attention. He is one of the most adept swing bowlers in cricket, second only, perhaps, to England’s James Anderson. He swings it in and out at will, skills very few bowlers can match.
At Perth, India’s bowlers were widely thought to have been slightly wayward with the new ball. Taking advantage of the visitor’s wastefulness, Marcus Harris and Aaron Finch were not parted until the scorecard read 112. This was a grand start on a surface that proved helpful to the seamers and formed the platform for Australia’s eventual 326.
We do not know if Kumar would have similarly underperformed with the new ball, but given his history and his expertise, it is likely the Australian openers would have found him more troublesome. “India appeared to opt for Umesh’s pace ahead of Bhuvneshwar’s accuracy,” Cricviz’s Freddie Wilde tweeted. “Since the start of 2015 no Indian pace bowler has pitched a higher proportion of his deliveries on a good line and length than Bhuvneshwar’s 44%.”
Umesh has been known for a number of incisive spells of contrast swing with the older ball. But undermining the opposition’s innings early has got to be the preferred option.
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One reason Umesh might have been preferred is the fact that the Kookaburra ball, used for Tests in Australia, is not as conducive to seam and swing — Bhuvneshwar’s favoured weapons — as the Dukes ball used in England and the West Indies or even the SG ball used in India. But there was a considerable movement to be had at Perth and so a bowler of more insistent accuracy might have reaped richer rewards.
Many hold the idea that pace may be more useful than steadiness in Australian conditions. Yet Glen McGrath, Stuart Clark and others with good records there, relied more on accuracy than on express pace.
Umesh captured two wickets for 137 runs in the game, a return that suggests that his inclusion didn’t turn out the way India had wished. And while we don’t know if they’d have made the same decision in retrospect, opinion is fairly widespread that the Bhuvneshwar’s inclusion would have served India better.
Ravindra Jadeja’s inclusion might have served them better as well. The visitor’s, for some reason, chose to go into a Test without a recognized spinner, something one hardly expects from a side from the subcontinent.
Ashwin’s absence meant India would have been without their premier spin bowling option. Their chief slow bowler’s injury, it was thought, along with the promise of pace and bounce on a reasonably green Perth pitch, urged the visitors to jettison spin in favour of a four-man pace attack.
But captain Virat Kohli surprised many when he said Ashwin might still have been omitted had he been fit. One can’t help feeling, however, that Kohli was just being stubborn. Admitting that they should have played a front-line spinner would have meant admitting to an error of judgment. “We as a team didn’t want to think that we definitely wanted to consider a spinning option on this pitch,” he said after the game, “especially having a look at the pitch on day one and how we thought it would play on the first three days, and exactly played out that way. We thought a fast bowler is going to be more productive and more helpful for us as a team.”
The home team never seemed to harbour any such considerations, despite a strong tradition of fast bowling. Nathan Lyon’s place was never in doubt and he was Australia’s most successful bowler in the conditions, capturing all of eight wickets.
India were forced to engage the services of the part-time spin of Vihari for all of 28 overs, who picked up two wickets in the first innings. Yet one can hardly help thinking that Jadeja would have been a much better option. His bowling would have been significantly more threatening and he is also a capable batsman who might have matched Vihari’s 48 runs in the match.
India seem somewhat prone to selection errors. Cheteshwar Pujara is easily one of India’s best batsmen, yet he was foolishly omitted for the Edgbaston Test in England in August. We have also seen the non-inclusion of players like Ajinkya Rahane and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the not too distant past, decisions that appeared to be obvious blunders at the time. It is an area of their cricket that they need to address.
And so here we are with the series locked at one game apiece. It is now on to the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne. A recovered Ashwin is likely to reclaim his spot. The last Test at the venue was a boring draw. If the pitch is anything like it was during England’s last visit, India might indeed need five bowlers. If this turns out to be the case then they’d be well advised to look in the direction of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, a bowler in which they need to invest a lot more trust.