The Western Australian Cricket Association stadium in Perth is a name that brings images of hard, bouncy wickets and tearaway fast bowlers terrorizing batsmen from all over the world to mind. So what must supposedly be the strategy of any team that plays here? All out pace? A backup spinner probably? For Australia, the choice is simple : Brad Hogg out, Shaun Tait in. India however, may just take a gamble. It’s something that they are being forced to do, they don’t have a choice.
In all probability, even before the series began, the Indian think tank would have decided to rest Harbhajan for the third match, and bring in a fast bowler in his place. Fate had other ideas though. The recent events in Sydney involving racism have thrown all prior planning out of the window. The Indian team has fought tooth and nail to clear Bhajji of all allegations. After staying back in Sydney, and going through a myriad of emotions for matters not directly related to cricket, will the Indian team actually go ahead with their plan of resting Harbhajan for the WACA test? What kind of message will it send out to the Australian team, and the world? That we complained, fussed, and created all the brouhaha and got a ban lifted, only to personally drop him? Unfortunately, in a country where sentimentality rules over most issues, that is not going to be the case.
It all boils down to this: The entire Sydney episode has meant that Harbhajan will play at Perth. That will mean an attack having two spinners, on a pitch where many sides field none. A third seamer is a necessity at Perth, and that opens up the door for one of the benchwarmers on this tour so far. A fit Zaheer would have been ideal for India, but now they need to field an inexperienced fast bowling lineup. Conditions at the WACA will be ideal for VRV Singh, but playing Harbhajan as well as an extra fast bowler will mean that the Indians end up with an extra-long tail. So, there’s only one choice left : Irfan Pathan.
Pathan’s inclusion in the side will help strengthen the batting just a little bit, as well as the bowling. He might as well open the batting as his performances cannot be worse than that of Jaffer at the top. This obviously implies that Sehwag or Karthik will not get a chance, as Pathan will be usurping that place.
So, with three fast bowlers and two spinners, India will head into the Perth test. There is a practice game before that, but no one expects any surprises as to what the team for the third test will be. It will be interesting to see what the Indian team does : will it go the practical way and rest Harbhajan Singh and include a pacer in his place? Or will sentimentality rule and we will end up seeing an imbalanced side waiting to be steamrolled in three and a half days? It seems the “victory” at Sydney has opened up a very serious predicament.