First, the bad news. Taposh Chatterjee, the curator of the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, is intent on leaving some grass on the 22-yard strip for the second one-dayer between India and Australia here on Wednesday.
“I want a fair contest, a good cricket match. The bowlers must have some say,” says Chatterjee. And this bit will excite Mitchell Johnson. “There will be good bounce too,” he promises.
If you are an Indian fan, then there’s no good news, actually.
So MS Dhoni & Co finished second-best in Sunday’s series opener. And by some distance. Ha, the world’s best batting line-up couldn’t chase a ‘paltry’ 305-run target. They didn’t even come close.
Well, don’t be surprised if our medium-pacers harboured similar thoughts on the plane to Jaipur.
A pampered lot, they are used to giving away runs by the bucketful. After all, there’s Dhawan at the top, Kohli in the middle and, of course, Mr Skipper to finish things off in style. Let’s cut our batsmen some slack. They suffered a rare failure. So be it.
The culprits here are the medium-pacers. “The pitch was flat,” is a ready excuse you hear from them. Of the 29 fours India conceded on Sunday, 15 were off cuts, pulls or short-arm jabs. In other words, our fast bowlers were bowling short and wide most of the time. And on the same pitch, Johnson & Co breathed fire to fashion a 72-run victory.
TA Sekar, the foremost guru on fast bowling in India, lends a sound perspective. “Their tactic was to bounce India. Johnson led the way,” he says.
So what was Ishant Sharma, India’s so-called spearhead, doing? Sekar, who has guided a whole generation of fast bowlers, and is now chief mentor of the Delhi Daredevils and fast-bowling coach of Baroda, minces no words.
“Ishant was never a great mover of the ball,” he says. “He doesn’t hit the seam like Zaheer Khan or, for that matter, Bhuvneshwar Kumar. He prefers bowling with a scrambled seam. And where’s the pace? Where’s the Ishant of 2008?” he rues.
Ah, 2008. That was a long time ago. Remember Perth? Remember how Ricky Ponting danced to the tunes of a wild-haired teenager? That was indeed a long time ago.
How about dropping Ishant and giving Jaydev Unadkat a chance in Jaipur? Sekar agrees. The pace attack, he believes, is “one-dimensional”.
“Ishant must go. R Vinay Kumar has more variations up his sleeve than Ishant. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has the capability to swing the ball both ways. And invariably, he strikes with the new ball. So it has to be Ishant (who’s got to go out),” he remarks.
Makes sense, actually. Unadkat is young, hungry and bowls a natural away-going delivery to right-handers. And he can’t do worse than Ishant.
And just when you think Sekar is done, he throws a bomb. “I hope the selectors pick Zaheer for the last four ODIs,” he says. Yes, this team will come up for scrutiny at the end of the third match in Chandigarh. But Zaheer, really?
“I don’t believe his (ODI) career is over. You need him to mentor the younger lot. Ishant is the only one with some experience. But he’s struggling. You can’t expect Dhoni to run down the pitch and guide these pacers all the time,” Sekar says.
He cites the example of Imran Khan who mentored the likes of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed. “Look what he did from 1983 to 1992. Zaheer can do for India what Imran did for Pakistan. India lack a mentor on the field. You need Zaheer. He has got to be part of your plans for the 2015 World Cup. At least the preparation part.”
Here’s another piece of bad news. Three of the six ODIs will be played on pitches with true bounce. While the wickets in Jaipur, Chandigarh and Nagpur will make the Aussies smile, India will be at ease in Ranchi, Cuttack and Bangalore.