New Delhi: An injury to Harbhajan Singh has sent India in a tizzy as the 'World's No. 1' side has hardly seen beyond the off-spinner whenever they had to choose a spinner in the playing eleven. But the injury to the 31-year-old could well be the blessing in disguise for the team, who were beaten hollow in the first two Tests of the four-match series.
Amit Mishra has already been travelling with the team and is at the top of the list to replace Harbhajan. But the leg-spinner had played just one Test in team's tour to the Caribbean last month and looked off-colour during the outing. He picked up four wickets in the match in Jamaica while giving away 113 runs. The 28-year-old found it hard to control the spin he was getting from the Kingston pitch. But he could pip Pragyan Ojha, the slow left-arm spinner who's flying in to England as Harbhajan's replacement, for the vacant spot as it is the general perception that the English don't pay leg-spin well. Legendary Shane Warne's record against the Three Lions illustrates that well.
But Mishra's performance at the international stage has been disappointing so far. Except the outing in the West Indies, he has played the other 10 Tests either in India or in the sub-continent. His figures, 40 wickets at an average of over 38, are not that you expect from a spinner who has bowled most of his overs in spin-friendly conditions. And the English weather is bound to test the efficacy of the Haryana bowler.
Ojha, on the other hand, must have been thrilled by the events unfolded in the last few days. The Hyderabad spinner was already ecstatic after getting the clearance by the BCCI to play for the county side Surrey in the ongoing English domestic season. And the news that now he can be a part of the national side has come as a pleasant surprise to the 24-year-old.
There are two things that can go in Ojha's favour: first his control over his bowling and second his ability to trap right-handers leg before wicket. Ojha is well capable of keeping the lid on scoring at one end by stifling the batsmen with his slow left-armers. And his straight delivery that maintains its line before catching the right-handers off guard could well serve India's purpose against the in-form Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen.
But just like the number of Tests he has played (eleven in all), his record at the top level also matches Mishra's. He has picked up 42 wickets at an average of over 40 per wicket.
But pitches at Edgbaston and the Oval, the venues for the third and fourth Test respectively, are neither green decks nor dust bowls. And the two bowlers can take heart from the fact that surfaces at the two places tend to favour spinners on the fourth and fifth day of a match.
It is also hard to believe that India can go into the third Test with four-pronged pace attack. If the visitors had not tried that at Trent Bridge, there is a very little possibility that they will do that at Edgbaston. It gives the two spinners all the hope to be a part of the playing eleven in what could be the biggest challenge of their evolving careers.