Will Indian cricket complete the year 1999 on a glorious note? Millions of its admirers would be praying on the Christmas Day for such a memorable gift. The Melbourne Test against Australia begins on Sunday.
Having lost the first at Adelaide by a huge 285-run margin, India's stock is low. The world of sports has witnessed many a side or individual rising from a hopeless situation to dizzy heights. Can Sachin Tendulkar and his men join that elite group? When India went into the first Test with four bowlers and six batsmen, even experts were surprised. Traditionally, five bowlers, five batsmen and a wicket-keeper do battle in Test cricket.
No doubt, when a team enjoys high degree of confidence in its four top bowlers, we have often seen the team concerned packing more batsmen. Australia did that in the Adelaide Test and the result was resounding. The four Indian bowlers Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Ajit Agarkar and Anil Kumble did a commendable job in the Adelaide Test, especially in the second innings. But having to resort to Sourav Ganguly as the fifth bowler, they just could not apply sustained pressure on the Australian batting line-up after having rattled the top order. Thus Australia prospered to commanding totals in both innings.
Still, India's debacle in the first Test was mainly due to poor batsmanship. Can a team that entered a Test match with six batsmen have any excuses for such a pathetic show? Now Kapil Dev, the coach, and, Sachin Tendulkar, the skipper, must be the most worried Indians. How to arrive at a winning combination from the available group of 16 players? The bowling department's problems might well be solved if one more genuine bowler could be taken for the Melbourne Test.
It could be a paceman or a spinner. With five full-time bowlers at his command, Tendulkar could use the skills of Ganguly with more imagination. And the skipper himself can be an effective part-time bowler. The batting line-up must be posing a problem for Kapil Dev and Tendulkar. Possessing three of the world's top batsmen in Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Ganguly, the Indian batting cannot afford to put up uninspiring performances.
Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly are likely to regain their original slots in the Melbourne Test, the number 3, 4 and 5 spots. In the Adelaide Test, it was V V S Laxman who occupied the number three slot. So Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly were pushed to 4,5 and 6 respectively. In all probability, Laxman might open the innings with Sadagopan Ramesh in the Melbourne Test.
Debang Gandhi, the opener in the Adelaide Test, might not be considered. Thus there is certainly a place for one more full-time bowler. Who will gain that post? Debashish Mohanty and T Kumaran, the two medium pacers and Harbhajan Singh, an off-spinner, are the candidates.