x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Time for Indian cricket to test its young in Australia

Players such as Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron should be selected to play in the Test series Down Under.

In the commentary box at the Sydney Cricket Ground, a shrieking Bill Lawry could not control his excitement after Adam Gilchrist was clean bowled by an Irfan Pathan reverse-swinging yorker. "What a ripper!" the former Australia captain exclaimed as a new star announced his arrival on the big stage, in January 2004.

Fast forward four years and Ricky Ponting found Ishant Sharma impossible to negotiate in Perth. Barraged with deliveries that were short of driving length, the Australian batting great lunged forward to stroke a relatively fuller outswinger towards cover only, instead, to edge the ball to slip.

Both were watershed moments in Indian cricket, with even the late Peter Roebuck commenting that their bowling "was an expression of democratic, passionate, committed and self-dependent India".

Indeed, common to both instances was the confidence placed on youth for a demanding tour such as Australia.

India now prepare for another Antipodean tour, where they will play four Test matches after Christmas. And when Kris Srikkanth and his selection committee ponder over the make-up of the 16-strong squad, there should be a strong push to blood young bowlers.

Who then among the likely combination of five seamers and two spinners should these bowlers be?

The spinners first: it isn't clear what the selectors think about Harbhajan Singh, the 31-year-old off-spinner with 406 Test wickets to his name, but he is not playing in the home series against the West Indies - and rightly so - while he struggles at the domestic level for Punjab.

Harbhajan has the experience and aggression, but he has played on reputation for far too long. Besides, his record of nine wickets from four Tests at 73 runs apiece in Australia is abysmal, with his reluctance to flight the ball the primary reason for that.

Ravichandran Aswhin, with his off-spin, and Pragyan Ojha, with his left-arm tweaks, took 16 wickets between them to dismiss the West Indians in Delhi, so they must be persisted with.

Agreed, one Test is not enough to jump to conclusions about class, but Ashwin will be an asset on the bouncy Australian wickets because his awkward line and length, coupled with his carom ball, will force the Australian batsmen to take risks, such as hitting through the line.

Ignoring Ojha for a whole year was a travesty, and he proved what a consistent performer he is; 49 wickets from 12 Tests shows he belongs and means he won't be a pushover. So If there was ever a time to look beyond Harbhajan, this is it.

Zaheer Khan is subject to match fitness when he plays for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy, but once fit, he and Ishant must spearhead the attack.

For a decade, Zaheer, 33, has been India's strike bowler, and he has a wealth of experience for the youngsters to draw from. Ishant is 10 years younger, but he is not far from assuming Zaheer's mantle.

It is a mystery why Praveen Kumar has not been given a go against the West Indies. The selectors appear to want to experiment, but they must not forget Praveen was India's most successful bowler during the forgettable England tour. He isn't fast, but he is incisive and is a fighter.

Neither of the other two slots should be reserved for the erratic Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, the unfit Munaf Patel, the ambitionless RP Singh or the one-dimensional Ashish Nehra.

Umesh Yadav, 24, and Varun Aaron, 22 are the future, and must be picked. Their debuts this year have rekindled a fire among thousands of fans the world over, much like Pathan and Ishant did. They have bowled between 140-150 kph against England, and without them, the attack is at best steady and medium fast. Give them a chance, and maybe one of them will return a hero.