In the last part of the article, I will look at probable strategies against the remaining batsmen in the Indian line-up, which includes the captain marvel Dhoni, the young batsman Raina as well as the mercurial lower order batsman with a technique of his own Harbhajan. I will also come up with my prediction for the upcoming mouth watering contest between England and India.
Raina- For the last few years, Raina has been touted as the next big thing in Indian cricket. It is no doubt a fact that Raina is a powerful striker of the ball, who on his day can smash the opposition bowlers to smithereens. He is a typical modern day batsman, who relies on power rather than timing. If I look at some of Raina's strengths like him being a very powerful striker of the ball, it is crystal clear that he is perfectly suited to the shorter formats of the game. At the same-time, as he is young, he still has enough time on his hands to improve his defence which in turn can help him to become a better test batsman.
As far as Raina's test match batting credentials are concerned, he looked like a fish out of water on bouncy tracks in South Africa. Any batsman, who seems to have a premeditated forward press and looks to smash even back of a length deliveries on bouncy tracks in the Safferland over the mid-wicket region, will have his fair share of problems against the bouncing ball. It isn't just hit the deck bowlers, but spinners and swing bowlers too will fancy their chances against such a batsman.
So with Raina having major flaws in his technique, is there no future for him in test cricket? The good news for Raina's fans is that he seems to be working very hard on his defence hence, he is looking to play late as well as trying to improve on his non-existent back-foot play. In West Indies, Raina played a few decent pull shots, but against better bowlers in tougher conditions Raina has his task cut-out.
Yes, Raina has shown signs of improvement in his technique, but Tremlett with the bouncing ball and Anderson with his late swing will likely trouble Raina. Raina's tendency to sometimes go hard at the ball means that Swann too will fancy his chances against Raina.
Dhoni- At present, captain of the Indian team seems to have a golden touch as he has led the Indian side to so many glorious triumphs including the WC triumph which in turn sent a cricket mad country into a frenzy. Dhoni is a captain with a midas touch. So, can the golden boy of India do anything wrong?
Critics may point to the fact that Dhoni is lucky as he is captaining a good team yet, with so many victories under his belt as the captain, he is already up there with the pantheon of great captains, who have led the Indian side over the years. Dhoni though, isn't a God, but just a human-being, which can be seen by the fact that his batting average over his last 20 test innings is just around 30. So, have the opposition bowlers found a chink in Dhoni's technique, or just like the old slogan of form is temporary and class is permanent, Dhoni will comeback to form?
If I analyse Dhoni's technique, it is clear that he has a technique of his own, as he has an open-chested stance and plays shots which aren't written in the coaching manual. The helicopter shot is a good example of it. Dhoni though, in test cricket tries his best to play late and at least early in his innings, doesn't go hard at the ball. The fact though is, in helpful conditions for swing bowlers, a decent outswing bowler can open him up like a can of worms. So, by just looking at his stance itself, I will go for JA as my first attacking option, as with his outswinger, Anderson can trouble Dhoni and get the edge. As sometimes, Dhoni has a tendency to go hard at the ball, Swann can bowl at the other end. If Swann bowls, he can try the drifter as Dhoni has the tendency to favour the on-side.
Last but not the least, I will also discuss about the mercurial Harby. You like him or hate him, there is no doubt that any team should have plans for Harby as well. Here is a cricketer, who doesn't seem to have a defence, but with his pyrotechnics, Harby has the ability to occasionally take the game away from the opposition with some brutal hitting. So what makes Harby occasionally a dangerous proposition to bowl to? I think Harby has a great eye otherwise, how can anyone flat bat an 85+ mph short delivery for a six? He can be a very awkward customer to bowl at and as he hits in unusual areas, the captain may have to sometimes scratch his head as it is hard to set fields for such type of batsmen. Harby isn't a tail-ender, but as he has a high-back-lift, I still see the bouncer and the yorker as the best combination against him.
At the start of the article, I also promised that I will predict the scoreline for the upcoming series. My prediction for the series is, England will win the series 2-0. The safe bet would be 1-1, but I do believe that India needed to play couple of warm-up games as it would have helped the Indian team to acclimatise to alien conditions. Yes SRT and co. are great batsmen, but even if a player has played over 100 tests, it would still take maybe a week or so to get acclimatised to tough conditions like in England.
India's bowling attack too looks a bit suspect to me. The major worry is of course about India's pace spearhead Zaheer's fitness, as he doesn't seem to be match fit. He has hardly bowled in recent times and even in the match against Somerset, he only bowled a few overs. Unless a bowler is as well built as the great Ambrose, he needs miles in his legs and that can be done by bowling lots of overs. If I think from India's point of view, I worry that Zaheer may again suffer from an injury in middle of the series. Sree too seems to be lacking match fitness. So the bowling attack may depend on Sharma, as Harby can't be expected to run through a side in alien conditions. On the other hand, England don't seem to have any worries except for the fact that for some bizarre reason, the enforcer in the team would likely get yet another chance to play test cricket ahead of a more reliable bowler.
Finally, I just hope that the series between the number one ranked team and the challenger for that number one spot lives up-to the hype surrounding it and we get to see nail-biting edge of the seat contests. Let the series begin with both teams showing plenty of brio, elan, vigour, joie, de vivre and vitality.