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Points to ponder before India take the field in Mohali


Cricketnext Staff,Cricketnext
Mar 07, 2013 at 11:46am IST

New Delhi: A victorious Indian team had a day and a half trimmed from their workload in Hyderabad thanks to Australia's inept batting on the fourth day, during which they crashed to 131 all out. The win was India's second biggest against Australia (an innings and 135 runs) and following the eight-wicket success in Chennai has put them one win away from reclaiming the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

The victory in Hyderabad was fashioned around a super start from rookie swing bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar, carried forward by the spinners and ultimately sealed by a record partnership of 370 between Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay. Australia were reeling under the weight of that mammoth alliance and on a crumbling fourth-day pitch simply folded in a heap to R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

With an unassailable 2-0 lead, India head to Mohali for the third Test starting next Thursday with plenty to feel chuffed about. But while these two wins will no doubt give the players plenty to cheer about, there are some lingering worries. Let's look at what India took from the Hyderabad Test:

Points to ponder before India take the field in Mohali

A file photo of India opening batsman Virender Sehwag.

Cheteshwar Pujara is the real deal

After a stroke-filled 206 not out and an even better 135 in the second Test against England in November, the run machine from Saurashtra was riding high on confidence. But then his form trailed off - 6, 16, 8 and 26 in his next four innings. Back in domestic cricket, he reeled off an unbeaten 203 and 352 at strike-rates of over 80 for Saurashtra which forced the selectors to name him in India's ODI squad for England. However, Pujara warmed the bench for five matches.

Back in the Test whites, Pujara made 44 and 8 not out in Chennai. But in Hyderabad, he roared back with 204, his second Test double-century in 11 matches. It extended his excellent conversion rate - four Test hundreds and one half-century - and was his third score in excess of 150. During his match-winning innings, Pujara also crossed 1000 runs in just 18 innings, thus becoming the second-fastest Indian batsman to do so behind Vinod Kambli (14 innings). But unlike Kambli, Pujara has a strong head on his shoulders and does not look fading away.

Ravindra Jadeja is a more than useful as a fifth bowler

Jadeja, the IPL rock star, a viable Test cricketer? A few months ago this would have been seen as incomprehensible, but after two Tests against Australia the allrounder has proved himself a major asset in two of three departments. Picked as the specialist allrounder at No. 7, Jadeja has failed with the bat but his accurate, stump-to-stump left-arm spin and athleticism in the field have boosted a transitioning India.

In Chennai, Jadeja took three wickets but crucially bowled with creditable accuracy conceding just 117 runs in 70 overs. In Hyderabad, he had a match haul of 6 for 66 and his contribution to India's mammoth win was striking. Thrice in the series, Jadeja has removed Australia's best batsman, Michael Clarke (the third instance brought Sunil Gavaskar almost to his feet). To top it off, Jadeja's direct hit from cover to run out Moises Henriques on Tuesday was stunning. It could be the best piece of fielding India have had in years.

In Asian conditions, and in fact in the West Indies, Jadeja's bowling gives India a potent fifth-bowling option. This is something they have sorely lacked for as long as the memory serves. If he can shape up with the bat, Jadeja could find himself playing a lot more Test cricket. Then he'd be a proper cricketing rock star.

Virender Sehwag needs a break

In 21 Test innings since the tour of Australia, the beleaguered opener has managed one century and two fifties. Since scoring a long overdue century against England in Ahmedabad in November, Sehwag has scored 25, 30, 9, 23, 49, 0, 19, 2 and 6. In the last five years, the best he has come up with outside of Asia is 67, and he averages a paltry 22.73 away from friendly conditions.

In this series, he has been bowled, edged to slip and been caught behind. The footwork is now virtually non-existent, the hand-eye coordination very poor (those glasses he has been wearing aren't doing the trick) and the vibe he has given off at the crease, as well as in the slips in Chennai, plain unenthusiastic. Short of runs and confidence, Sehwag needs a break. If the BCCI is so keen on picking youth for the future, then Sehwag really needs to be released so he can rediscover his form - if that's possible at all.

Murali Vijay gives India an option at the top

With Sehwag barely managing to hold his place and Gautam Gambhir not currently part of the Test side, Vijay's 167 in Hyderabad has come a spring of hope. Vijay atoned for his failures in Chennai with a superb century and will definitely get another two Tests to prove his worth further. He proved that he could bat out time, and then cash in on a solid start, and considering the form of India's openers for the last couple years, what Vijay did in Hyderabad is doubly commendable. His place is not certain beyond this series yet, but in batting 473 minutes and 361 deliveries, Vijay did what Sehwag and Gambhir have failed to do for ages.

Ishant Sharma is a no-show on Indian tracks

Forty-nine Tests, that's how long Ishant has been playing for India. Yet take his name and images of Ricky Ponting being worked over are conjured. And that was more than four years ago.

On day one in Chennai, Ishant bowled 11 overs across five spell and finished with 0 for 46. As is often the case, he struggled to locate the right length to bowl and wavered in line. In fact, for most of that Test, it appeared Ishant was used so that one of the spinners could get a change of ends. After a while, Dhoni gave up.

On day one in Hyderabad, Ishant was outshone by his new-ball partner Bhuvneshwar who did what Ishant had managed to do just once his previous 13 Tests, dating back to July 2011 - take three wickets in an innings. It took Ishant 39 overs to get his first wicket of the series in Hyderabad, and that too it came with a leg-side delivery that Shane Watson got a faint tickle on. That took his wicket tally in the last 12 Tests to 15. Fifteen. Ishant has not looked like a wicket-taking bowler since coming back from his ankle injury, and especially with India putting faith in spin in tailor-made conditions, he has become all the more redundant.

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