India v Australia, 2nd ODI, Kochi October 1, 2007

Rain could ruin rotation policy

India have 11 more matches to test out their bench strength but just how far will they go?
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Would it be wise to throw Robin Uthappa in the deep end against Australia or just let him warm the bench? © Bipin Patel

The threat of rain over Kochi, after the series opener was washed out, means India could lose another opportunity to test their one-day bench strength. There are eleven more ODIs before a tough tour of Australia - eleven games for India to effect the rotation policy they've spoken of.

The need for rotation is felt most in batting, where a huge void will form once Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly retire - and that could happen sooner rather than later. Waiting in the wings are the likes of Rohit Sharma and Robin Uthappa, who stand to gain much from being in the field or batting with Tendulkar and Dravid.

Sharma was a star in the ICC World Twenty20; his match-winning unbeaten 50 against South Africa helped India qualify for the semi-finals and he followed it up with a crucial 16-ball 30 in the victory over Pakistan in the final. The question now is, do you play him against Australia, throwing him into the deep end based on a few positive splashes, or do you let him warm the bench?

If India want to build, they will do the former - though it must be mentioned here that Sharma's inclusion in the squad came about only as a replacement for Piyush Chawla. He looks close to being the complete package, though, in terms of temperament, shots and adaptability. Through his first-class career, his performance at the No. 3 position in the Under-19 World Cup last year and in the few Twenty20s he's played, Sharma showed he can accumulate and hit, depending on the situation.

India don't need Zaheer for every game, given that he has a key role to play in the Tests against Pakistan and Australia. Why not try out Joginder Sharma, Ishant Sharma or VRV Singh? This is, after all, the Future Cup

Then there's Uthappa, whose effortless 41-ball 70 against West Indies in January, a nerveless unbeaten 47 from 33 at The Oval this summer and 50 against Pakistan in South Africa last month have, for the time being, earned him a place in the one-day team.

Among the bowlers, rotation makes sense for a different reason. The bowlers failed to go for the kill in Bangalore on Saturday after taking four early wickets and India found they had no answer to Michael Clarke's brilliance. As he and Brad Haddin flourished under pressure India's bowlers lost their line - RP Singh sprayed far too much down the leg side and Ramesh Powar served up lots of full tosses - and the fielding suddenly looked ragged. There were far too many wides, even from Sreesanth, who picked up three wickets in his seven-over opening spell.

India's attack featured three left-arm pace bowlers, a rarity on subcontinent pitches. The logic of including three lefties can pay off if they all offer something different but there was little to choose between Zaheer Khan, Singh and Irfan Pathan. They all operated at about the same pace - Pathan jacked it up from the low 120 kph to 140 - and neither was threatening enough to bounce out the Australian batsmen. The bowling could not sustain itself over a longer period. India still appeared in Twenty20 mode: for the first 20 overs they dominated, but in the remaining 30 they struggled.

India don't need Zaheer for every game, given that he has a key role to play in the Tests against Pakistan and Australia. Why not try out Joginder Sharma, Ishant Sharma or VRV Singh? This is, after all, the Future Cup.

After those three Tests Down Under India have the tri-nation CB Series, also featuring the hosts and Sri Lanka, and proposed series against South Africa, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. That's a lot of cricket, but India only got the chance to play youngsters in the World Twenty20 because Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly opted out. India need to ensure those youngsters are given a chance in those three scheduled contests next year.

Jamie Alter is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo