When the selectors rested many senior players and announced a fresh-look Team India under the captaincy of Gautam Gambhir against a spirited New Zealand, many thought the decision would backfire against a team which looked more convincing than India in the Test series.
Few predictable yet strange decisions were made by the selection committee, but to the surprise of everyone including chief selector Chris Srikkanth- everything clicked!
Out of form Gambhir turned out to be man of the series, ‘rusty’ Munaf Patel became Indian ‘McGrath’ with impeccable line and length, Parthiv Patel’s twin fifties posed a threat to India’s second-choice wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha and Yusuf Pathan (India’s most loved number 7 bat who was not picked for his inconsistency since June) displaced Ravindra Jadeja (hailed as Dhoni’s blue-eyed boy and was always picked as single choice all-rounder) for original number 7 with one substantial knock in the series!
As of now, Indian cricket fans are over the moon with the team’s performance and are going gaga over the new-found bench strength. Conversely, that does not amuse me as Indian fans have short-term memories and it does not take them long to lambast their heroes on sudden failure!
For me, the most pleasing outcome of the series was that not only Indian team showed hunger to win every match without being complacent, but also that finally India has zeroed down on the right pool of 15 cricketers who will form the final XI in the World Cup.
In cricket, a strong team is the one who pretty much have a confirmed set of players and do not make radical changes overnight. This stability convinces players that they are the best to represent their country and play to win, rather than to save their place in the team.
Australia, once known as ‘Invincibles’ and the only team to win World Cup four times, have always been consistent with their team selection till recently and the results are for everyone to see.
One look at the Australian selection for this year Ashes- where uncapped Xavier Doherty was picked over long-nurtured Nathan Hauritz before first Test, Mitchell Johnson was axed for injury-returned Doug Bollinger for the second Test and then Bollinger and Doherty were shown door for another debutant Michael Beer and Johnson for the third Test- you don’t need other reasons to know about the Oz slump of form. The step also reveals that not only is the team unprepared, but also that the management has no confidence in players going for the games!
With India almost finalizing its complete squad more than two months before the World Cup, the development speaks volumes about the team’s confidence.
Though the important step of constructing a full-strength team is over, the bigger problem of selecting the final XI is still unanswered.
A month back when Yusuf Pathan was being consistently ignored and Ravindra Jadeja was not making any news with either bat or ball, one place of number seven was up for grabs. But, with a match-winning hundred under testing circumstances, Yusuf Pathan looks to have sealed the spot for India for at least the matches in sub-continent.
But then, if Yusuf will play at number seven then where will a player like Virat Kohli feature in Indian squad?
Kohli’s run of form has been a talking point in recent times and many believe that the youngster is too talented to be left out of playing XI.
Today, the unique situation Team India finds itself in is the first of its kind in many years and maybe for the first time this ‘problem of plenty’ has showed that no one including Tendulkar and Dhoni is irreplaceable in the side and only consistency is a ticket to feature in the team!
Let’s discuss the complete ODI team one-by-one, including all the players in fray and believing that no player gets injured.
Team India has three solid openers- Tendulkar, Sehwag and Gambhir- out of which it is most likely that Tendulkar and Sehwag will open the innings for India. People may argue that with Gambhir as one opener, India will have an ideal left-right combination but the fact that Gambhir has already been tried at number three and neither Sachin nor Sehwag is keen to play at number 3 will possibly end the argument.
In this situation, Gambhir will bat at number three where he faces a stiff competition with Delhi team-mate Virat Kohli, who like Gambhir is also going through a purple patch.
<b>NUMBER 4, 5 and 6</b>
Till few months back, fourth and fifth spot used to be a certainty for Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, but the changing permutations and combinations can well spell the ouster of any if they are not able to back their performances during the difficult tour to South Africa.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni bats at number six and needs no CV to prove his leadership abilities, but with Gautam Gambhir proving that a captain is as good as his team, Dhoni can’t take his place in team for granted.
<b>THE NUMBER 7</b>
The fight for number seven spot will make the most interesting brain-teaser for the team management and India have two plans for this spot.
As per today, Yusuf Pathan looks to have booked his berth with his maiden century but the inconsistency syndrome can account to his fall in long run and a lot on his selection will depend on his performance in ODI series against South Africa.
If Yusuf does not make the cut, Team India can also think of playing Yuvraj Singh as an all-rounder, making way for Virat Kohli as number seven bat- a role he effectively plays in IPL for his home team Royal Challengers Bangalore!
The last four spots in team belong to bowlers where team India would experiment with either 3 pacers + 1 spinner or 2 pacers + 2 spinners, depending on the nature of pitch.
With too many part-time spin bowling options available in Yuvraj, Raina and Sehwag, Team India is most likely to go with the first combination which leaves space for only one specialist spinner.
With the arrival of R Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh is no longer a certainty for the lone spinner. Making all the news with bat lately, Harbhajan Singh has not done justice to his bowling and has been ineffective in his spells. With Ashwin breathing heavily down his neck and gaining reputation of a powerplay bowler with intelligent sharp bowling, don’t be surprised if he pips Bhajji in competition to grab the lone spinner’s spot.
<b>NUMBER 9, 10 and 11</b>
The last three places that belong to pacers is an open competition among six bowlers. As per today, the places seem fixed for Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar and Ashish Nehra but with impressive performances by Munaf Patel, Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma- the contest is not closed yet.
More than anyone, fast bowlers have too much to prove in forthcoming South Africa tour where a good performance can well mean a ticket to World Cup squad.
So, these are the selection dilemmas that Indian selectors have to face when they pick the final draft of Team India for the World Cup.
With good form under the belt, questions have been raised if Team India is peaking too early while going into World Cup but with the right blend of youth and experience in the side, India definitely look a front-runner to lift the coveted trophy that nation has been waiting for 28 years now.