India's fightback in the Adelaide Test through positive batting in relatively friendly conditions has served to divert attention from their poor bowling. With the exception of Ishant Sharma, who has, however, slowed down considerably in the seven years since he tested Ricky Ponting with probing spells in Perth, the bowlers have tended to spray the ball around.
If it was frustrating to watch Mohammed Shami run up ball after ball, seemingly mechanically, without a plan in his head, the blooding of Karn Sharma, the wristspinner, was at best mystifying. Here was a young bowler selected for the Test series against a tough opponent largely on the basis of excellence in one season of T20 cricket.
At the time of writing, Australia's second innings is in progress, and Karn can still prove me wrong by running through the lower half, but he will not have done enough to convince me that his selection made sense in the first place. His bowling resources on view are not so impressive as to justify his choice ahead of other wristspinners like Amit Mishra or Piyush Chawla for the tour - for all their failings - nor does R Ashwin's exclusion from the playing XI make any sense. True, Nathan Lyon's beautifully flighted and well-directed offspin has posed so may problems to the batsmen that it has played a part in exposing India's folly in not including Ashwin, but it is hardly hindsight to question India's decision to go into the Test with three seamers and one unproven spinner.
Given Ashwin's impressive career figures, the higher expectations the selectors seem to have from him as opposed to other Indian bowlers must be the mystery of the Dhoni era. Preferring Ravindra Jadeja and Stuart Binny to him in England was bad enough, but his being superseded by a rookie wristspinner in Adelaide has defied logic. Yes, including a legspinner in the XI in Australia is a good attacking option, and Karn is the one bowler in the India squad answering to that description, but given his inexperience, would complementing his bowling with Ashwin's offspin not have provided insurance of sorts? If the argument was that including both would have reduced the number of specialist batsmen to six, it could be countered by stressing Ashwin's superior temperament as a batsman - compared to Rohit Sharma's, even!
India are precariously positioned in Adelaide: these lines are being written with Australia 363 ahead and five second-innings still intact. An Australian victory seems the most likely result, with India having to bat last. Lyon may prove a handful in the last innings, and even the legspin of Steven Smith can come into play on a wearing wicket, if he can land his legbreaks consistently in the rough.
India have well and truly shot themselves in the foot by going into this match with the wrong XI, and they may well have missed a golden chance to not only go one up, but possibly their only opportunity to win a Test in the series. The sad truth is that these selectorial blunders are repeated, and nothing is learned from history. The story on the last tour of England could have had a happier ending if only India had picked the best men for the job in every Test, especially in the bowling. Remember how one dropped catch reprieved Alastair Cook and wayward bowling after that allowed England to put up a huge total in Southampton and demoralise the Indians for the rest of the series. The euphoria after a brilliant victory at Lord's remained short-lived.
Cricket is a funny game, the Adelaide wicket is a funny surface, and India sometimes have a way of proving critics wrong when we least expect results from the team. All my fulminations could then invite ridicule. I will, however, continue to question the team composition no matter how this Test turns out.
Looking beyond Adelaide, Mitchell Johnson and Co. will come hard at India's batsmen on the faster, livelier tracks ahead, and runs on the board will be that much harder to achieve, bouncers or no bouncers. India's best chances may well be in Sydney, where spinners have thrived in the past. Would it be too much to expect two spinners in the Indian attack at least for that Test?
V Ramnarayan is an author, translator and teacher. He bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s