Of late, Sandip Patil and Anurag Thakur’s squad announcement press conferences have been a rather routine affair. From the series against Zimbabwe to South Africa, squads announced were on expected lines and players picked from a predictable pool.
December 19 panned out to be very different in comparison. The duo had quite a few surprises in store for India’s cricket loving public. From the usual suspects to electric upstarts, the plane to Australia will carry an eclectic mix of India’s cricketing talent.
From little-known Brainder Sran to Renaissance man Ashish Nehra, the five wise men sent several pulses racing with their picks. Like each time, the list of players was and will be debated at length.
Didn’t Shreyas Iyer merit a call-up? Why wasn’t Amit Mishra picked? So on so forth.
As the Men in Blue embark on a crucial tour ahead of the ICC World T20, here are five talking points from India’s squad selection for the series Down Under.
Continued faith in captain
Once a first among equals in Indian cricket, MS Dhoni today is under more scrutiny than ever before. Contrary to popular belief, the skipper hasn’t performed all that badly with the bat in recent series defeats against Bangladesh and South Africa.
What has puzzled most observers is the manner in which the once explosive Dhoni now accumulates his runs. Rookie bowlers like Mustafizur Rahman and Kagiso Rabada have exposed his inability to shift gears during slog overs of late.
By stating that Mahi will lead the side till the T20 World Cup, Anurag Thakur put to rest rumors of handing Virat Kohli India’s ODI captaincy as well. This decision hands Dhoni another three months to rediscover his magic touch.
With the sword no longer hanging on his head, Dhoni will hopefully exhibit a more carefree brand of cricket that he once swore by. Additionally, the selectors’ decision to give him a free hand also suggests they are convinced MSD can deliver another World Cup win.
Suresh Raina’s surprise omission
'A bit harsh’ was VVS Laxman’s remark after Suresh Raina was dropped from India’s ODI side for the Australian tour. The 29-year-old has scored just one fifty in his last eight outings. Poor form plus Raina’s problems with the short ball, especially on foreign soil, perhaps forced the selectors’ hand in pushing him out of the side.
Despite the left-hander’s form deserting him of late, Laxman’s assessment makes perfect sense. The Uttar Pradesh batsman recorded the second best average and the best strike rate by any Indian during the World Cup in Australia. More importantly, his ability to play crucial cameos at the fag end of matches remains unmatched.
Though Raina has been retained in the T20 side, selectors might have erred by denying him valuable match practice ahead of the World Cup on home soil.
Age no barrier for comebacks
Making comebacks in India isn’t easy with so much talent surging through the ranks in domestic cricket, especially in the batting department. The trend of recalling deserving veterans, pioneered by Jagmohan Dalmiya and perfected by Shashank Manohar, has witnessed the returns – first of Harbhajan Singh and now Yuvraj Singh and Ashish Nehra.
The World Cup winning trio deserves props for sweating it out in domestic cricket, which helped them earn their plane tickets to Australia. Crucially, their comeback brings to the fore a clear policy of the Indian board that performing players will get their due irrespective of their age and career stage.
Whether someone like Yuvraj grabs this chance to cement his position in the side is another matter. But BCCI’s policy has twin benefits – it sends a signal of hope to the likes of Gautam Gambhir and serves as a warning to the incumbents.
Added focus on domestic cricket
Sandip Patil and team deserve credit for pursuing a line of thought that appears to be in the right direction. While Yuvi was the big headline grabber after the squad announcement, promotion of his Punjab colleague Brainder Sran didn’t go unnoticed.
However, the selection of Rishi Dhawan and Manish Pandey was truly heartening. The duo has been turning in performances of note season after season for their respective states in domestic cricket. Another new pick was all-rounder Hardik Pandya who backed up his breakout season performance for Mumbai Indians with a good show for Baroda.
In October, BCCI launched the India Cricket campaign with an objective of branding India’s international and domestic cricket seasons. Apart from live coverage by BCCI’s official broadcast partner, matches are now being streamed on the board’s website too. This additional focus on domestic cricket is bound to further inspire the many uncapped stars.
MS Dhoni-Yuvraj Singh rift a myth?
The ‘bromance’ between Yuvraj and Dhoni at its peak was well publicized. The twin trailblazers of Indian cricket were partners in crime on and off the pitch, as a young team emerged out of their seniors’ shadow. While Dhoni continued to scale new peaks, Yuvi’s progress was hampered by his illness. Reports of a rift between the duo soon emerged after the left-hander was dropped on his return.
While there was no public comment from Dhoni, Yuvi had just good things to say about his captain. After the Punjab batsman failed to make it to India’s 2015 World Cup squad, his father Yograj’s foul-mouthed tirade against Dhoni went viral. The national media gleefully went to town with that video. However, Yuvraj clarified yet again there was no bad blood between them. They were cordial during IPL games but that didn’t discourage headline writers.
It would have been perfectly fine for Dhoni to opt for in-form Shreyas Iyer instead of Yuvraj. But with the skipper pushing for Yuvi’s inclusion in the T20 squad, it’s safe to quash the speculation about any animosity between them.