Colombo: As in politics, a week or so can be a hell of a long time in sport, too. Just ask Harbhajan Singh.
Till last Sunday, the offie’s name was barely mentioned in the list of spinners who could pose a real threat in this World Twenty20. Then, as if by a magic wand, everything seemed to fall in place for the Sardar.
Coming in to bowl after missing nearly 13 months of international cricket, his four overs and four wickets left England in a daze and Mahendra Singh Dhoni in a huge dilemma. To play with five bowlers or revert back to his tried and tested formula of four bowlers and seven batsmen?
“A problem of plenty,” and a “difficult decision” was how the Team India captain had put it then. Four days on, nothing has changed and the team management is still in a quandary on the eve of their opening Super Eights game against Australia.
“We most probably will play with five bowlers, but what combination will depend on the conditions and the wicket which will be a fresh one,” revealed Dhoni on Thursday. The Indian captain was candid to admit that it would be “one of the toughest decisions that I’ve taken so far.”
To play or not to play Virender Sehwag is the million-dollar question. There’s no official word but indications are that Sehwag may have to sit in the dugout for another match to accommodate the five-bowler concept. The opener was present during the optional practice session on Thursday and did have a long stint at nets.
But will the team management opt to keep Sehwag out and continue to open with Irfan Pathan? Will the new opening pair be able to give the momentum in the Powerplays which can more or less decide the course of the game?
For the record, though, Sehwag has never been very successful against Australia in the limited-overs game. In ODIs against them, he averages 21.68, and in five T20s his average has been 8.20.
The England game has shown that two spinners are a certainty in the XI. But which two remains a mystery. In any other situation, Ravichandran Ashwin would have walked into the XI, but will Dhoni risk playing two off-spinners? The problem will cease to exist if Dhoni decides to play all three spinners, given Australia’s susceptibility against spin.
The conditions at the Premadasa have been to Harbhajan’s liking. A lot of balls are hurrying on like a top-spinner and beating the batsmen. This is proving to be a potent weapon for the spinners --- flight, guile and the top-spinner hurrying through.
Whatever the format, Harbhajan has been a compelling figure in the India-Australia rivalry since his hat-trick at Eden Gardens in 2001. The Aussies, though, are not willing to read much into it.
“The thing we have spoken about is not to focus on just one player. We can’t focus on any one of the Indian bowlers. They are all great bowlers... Yes, Harbhajan has picked up wickets the other night, but if we focus on him too much, then we may not focus enough on Ashwin or one of the quicks. I think all the Indian bowlers are pretty good and we just got to respect that…” George Bailey explained.
The Australian captain said that they would focus on pace and try to rattle the Indians with chin music. “Certainly it looks to spin more and more… For the moment, however, we are doing well with our fast bowlers,” he said.
As with all past contests, the battle will not just be limited to game plans and their execution. It will also be a tussle of minds and verbal volleys. But one thing is for sure. Whoever wins on Friday, will certainly gain a huge advantage in their quest for a semi-final berth.
India (likely): Gautam Gambhir, Irfan Pathan, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni , Harbhajan Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Lakshmipathy Balaji/Piyush Chawla.
Australia (likely): David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Hussey, George Bailey, Cameron White, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade , Daniel Christian, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Brad Hogg.
Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena and Richard Kettleborough. TV: Ian Gould.
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle.
Match starts: 7.30 pm (IST)
Related reports: Page 16