India explore double-spin option
Anil Kumble: likely to play at Adelaide
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It is amazing how one good performance can transform attitudes and breed belief. While it is not lost on them that they will be faced with even greater resolve from their formidable opponents at the Adelaide Oval, there is a quiet confidence about Sourav Ganguly's Indians. Having savoured Brisbane, they are not getting carried away by the moment, but "competing with the Australians" is no longer a mere platitude to be mouthed at press conferences. The Indians now believe that they can indeed compete. It is a sign of that belief that the team management is now contemplating playing two spinners in the second Test.
The plans may still change if the weather gets heavy on Friday, but there are strong indications that the Indian strategy is veering around towards bringing Anil Kumble into the playing XI and retaining Harbhajan Singh despite his tepid performance at Brisbane. The man most likely to miss out would be Ashish Nehra, who was flat if inexpensive in the first Test.
It is a plan fraught with grave risks. For the gamble to pay off, India will need to win the toss and bat first on what is considered to be the best batting pitch in Australia. It sported a tinge of green on Wednesday, but below it is a true surface, baked dry by the sun. It isn't expected to break up, but if the weather holds good, it will dry further and the spinners could come into play on the last day if India bat well enough to take the match the distance. Ganguly admitted: "We need to score at least 400, preferably more, to give ourselves a chance of winning here."
Talk has centred on Harbhajan's indifferent showing in the first Test, and Ganguly readily conceded that he was less than enamoured. But he is not ready to write off a bowler who he has turned to, by his own admission, every time he has needed a wicket over the years. "He's been my matchwinning bowler. I know, and he knows, he has to bowl better than he did at Brisbane. But this is a test of his mettle. I have faith in him."
Kumble's record in Australia is not inspiring, but he was at pains to point out yesterday that India must pick their four best bowlers in the XI, and he has a right to reckon he is one of them. The logic can be argued with, but not discarded outright. The Australians will come hard at the Indian bowlers at Adelaide, and if Kumble can stick to his line and length - no mean task against batsmen who back their intent to upset the rhythm of opposition bowlers with exceptional strokemaking abilities - he can expect to pick up a few wickets.
Of course, the plan could backfire horribly if India have to bowl first and find themselves a pace bowler short even before lunch on the first day, or worse, Ajit Agarkar, who came back from a horrible start to bowl well at Brisbane, decides to have an off session. Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar can send down their little seamers, but for them to share 20 overs in a day is an unrealistic demand.
But India's thoughts have now moved from mere protection of dignity to sneaking in an upset, and if they believe their best chance lies in spin, they must take it.
Sambit Bal, the editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine and Wisden Cricinfo in India, will be following the Indian team throughout this Test series.