A superb 5-0 victory over New Zealand just two months before the World Cup has raised hopes of millions of countrymen who want to see India win the coveted trophy after 27 years. The series against Kiwis showed that India have a strong bench strength – a hallmark of any good team.
Before the ODI series against the Black Caps, India had decided to rest senior pros like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh. Even regular captain MS Dhoni decided to opt out as they needed to concentrate on the South African series which is considered to be the final frontier for India.
But even without the big stars, Indian rookies, led by Delhi opener Gautam Gambhir have performed clinically to dispel any doubt that India are strongest contenders to repeat the feats by Kapil’s devils in 1983. With their performance, they have created many a problems for the Indian selectors when they would sit to finalize the 15-member squad for the Cup or for that matter the final XI.
It will be very difficult for the selectors to exclude opener Murali Vijay who, though never played a big innings, gave India good start along with Gautam Gambhir in the every match he played. But he has to be left out once Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag came back into the side.
So is the case with left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, who despite having performed reasonably well in the recent times, could be left out if India decides to go with an extra batsman considering the batting friendly pitches of the sub-continent.
The batting order is more or less settled with Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag opening the innings which will force regular opener Gautam Gambhir to come at number three position. Though no one can challenge the first three batsmen, the fight for the next two batsmen in the final XI will be among three strong contenders- Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh. Though all three are assured of their places in the final 15.
The five ODIs against New Zealand have settled captain Dhoni’s dilemma over the number 7 spot. Yusuf Pathan, by his performance with both the bat and ball, has, for the time being, made the all-rounder position his own. Dhoni’s first choice all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, who, despite getting enough chances, never fulfilled his captain’s faith, is now on a sticky wicket and might be left out of the squad. But Jadeja can still make it to the final 15 if the selectors decide to consider him as the third specialist spinner over Pragyan Ojha considering Jadeja’s good show with the ball in recent times.
The first two spinners’ slot will definitely be grabbed by the two offies - Harbhajan Singh and Tamil Nadu spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. Ashwin has shown that he is the best among the current crop of spinners in India for the shorter version of the game and with his variety and cool head, he can be lethal on the sub-continental pitches where spinners are believed to play a vital role in every team’s prospect.
The Indian pace attack also looks stable with Zaheer Khan leading the way. Praveen Kumar and Ashish Nehra have also performed over the years to claim their places. The number four pacer will be a toss up between S Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma. Sreesanth has done well in recent series against New Zealand, but if Ishant bowls well in South Africa, he can still pip Sreesanth in the final 15.
With India’s squad more or less settled, one can safely say that Dhoni’s men have the best chance to win the coveted World Cup. Can they do it? Only time will tell.
My Probable Final 15: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, M S Dhoni, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Praveen Kumar, S Sreesanth/Ishant Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja/ Pragyan Ojha/ Rohit Sharma