Do India stick with the same team?
"I have never believed in the horses-for-courses theory. Kapil Dev will get you wickets on a turner because he is a good bowler. A bad seamer will not get you wickets on a green top and a bad spinner will not get you wickets on a turner."
I was reminded of these words of the former India captain MAK Pataudi in an interview to ESPNcricinfo some years ago, when I incredulously scanned the Indian XI for the first Investec Test.
Trent Bridge produced the flattest wicket imaginable, and India misread it completely when they picked three specialist seamers and a medium-pace allrounder, Stuart Binny. Ravindra Jadeja must have been picked as the specialist spinner; or was he selected for his batting?
It wasn't Binny's fault that his bowling was found superfluous in the Nottingham Test, as indeed another medium-pacer, Vinay Kumar's, was at the WACA, Perth, two years ago, one of the few instances India have fielded four seamers. If his captain ignored him at Trent Bridge, Binny was ineffective on the rare occasion he was brought on at Lord's, where he would have been expected to be much more effective with the prodigious lateral movement on offer.
Unfortunately, when your first-choice fast bowlers are bowling well in friendly conditions, a fourth seamer is hardly needed. To Binny's credit, he played a valuable, polished knock to avert a small crisis in the second innings in Nottingham, and redeemed himself - gladdening all our hearts, for he is a popular, likeable sort of bloke whom everyone wants to succeed.
If the selectors had, however, decided to drop him for the second Test, they would have been perfectly justified, for batting is not his main responsibility in the team, and as a bowler he looked benign. The one time he found the bat's edge, he found wicketkeeper and slip playing truant. They chose to retain him, probably partly influenced by the look of the extraordinary Lord's pitch, but also perhaps giving him more marks for his batting than the circumstances justified. By doing so, they did a disservice to both Binny and the team, as he threw his wicket away at a vital juncture at Lord's, and his bowling there was undistinguished. Instead of leaving the scene with his head held high after the first Test, he has probably played his last Test of the series, with a question mark against his Test match credentials.
With two batsmen in Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane showing glimpses of greatness in the making, Ishant Sharma recapturing his long-lost rhythm (perhaps helped by the responsibility cast on his shoulders by the exit of Zaheer Khan), and Bhuvneshwar Kumar batting, bowling and fielding beyond expectations, it will be tempting to maintain the status quo, but the team management is surely wiser than that. Ravindra Jadeja is unlikely to run amok with his spin on any surface other than a paddy field drying after a thunderstorm, so the return of Ashwin in place of Binny for the third Test looks inevitable. Mohammed Shami too could do with a break to enable him to revisit his basics; maybe pay heed to Wasim Akram's advice on seam position and use of the wrist and come back fresh later. With two fine young pace and swing prospects in Varun Aaron and Ishwar Pandey waiting in the wings, the selectors are spoilt for choice. Hopefully the tour committee will avoid sentimentality with the same single-mindedness Murali Vijay has recently shown while refusing to flirt outside the off stump.
This Indian team under MS Dhoni is perhaps immune from tendencies to euphoria or complacency, but the bizarre parade by the English batsmen against short-pitched bowling at Lord's could potentially be a curse. It will be a real shame if the likes of Ishant Sharma - just settling down to disciplined ways after years in the wilderness of abandon - are carried away by the thrill and excitement of the bouncer. Hopefully the captain will come up with a new formula of length suited to every occasion.
V Ramnarayan is an author, translator and teacher. He bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s