I cannot remember the last time the Indian selectors received credit from all quarters for picking the best Test squad possible. Kris Srikkanth and co deserve it rightly for ignoring the likes of Shastri, in picking players based on their form and promise instead of past exploits and ‘getting under skin” crap. Harbhajan Singh has done nothing of note in the recent past to merit inclusion, while Ravi Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha have grabbed their opportunities with glee. There is no shame in it though, as Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Saurav Ganguly showed that they can come back as better players after an enforced absence from the team. It is up to Bhajji now to work his ass off and show the world that he still has got the goods for the international stage. The Indian team will be the better for it.
Apart from the spin department, there are a few minor quibbles here and there; Abhinav Mukund getting dropped after a poor tour of England, Rohit Sharma ahead of Cheteshwar Pujara, and picking two raw pacers for possibly the most demanding overseas tour for an Indian team. Still, the decisions are all justifiable. Ajinkya Rahane has impressed in the brief opportunities he has got and will have more confidence than Mukund, Pujara has just returned to full fitness and there is no need to rush him back when he have an in-form Rohit Sharma, and the pace combination is the best we have, given the lack of viable alternatives.
So, it all adds up to a pretty good team to tour Down Under. I would say that this is the best chance for an Indian team to win a series there, for the foreseeable future. Still, the Aussies won’t just roll over of course; they might be a team in transition, but with exciting players like Pat Cummins and seasoned veterans like Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey, they will still remain as tough nuts to crack. Hopefully, this series will end on a better note than the way the England tour ended.
Squad: MS Dhoni (capt &wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Rohit Sharma, Pragyan Ojha, Praveen Kumar, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha, Zaheer Khan (subject to fitness)
The ODI series between India and West Indies concluded recently with a predictable result in favor of the Indian team. It was an auspicious start for Team India’s new coach Duncan Fletcher, and was Suresh Raina’s first series win as skipper. For West Indies, the major positives were the progression of Andre Russell and Anthony Martin to match winners, while Lendl Simmons and Marlon Samuels shone at various times. Still, old problems remain; the batsmen don’t inspire confidence against spinners and the team as a whole freeze at the sight of victory. Meanwhile, India without their senior players, still managed to win the key moments and closed out the series despite the less number of players who enhanced their case in this series. Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Amit Mishra were three players who did everything that was expected of them, while the likes of Subramaniam Badrinath, Manoj Tiwary and Yusuf Pathan will rue the missed opportunities. Here’s a look at what I learnt from watching the series:
- Subcontinental fans might be the most passionate in the game, but no one can celebrate like the Caribbean fans.
- Chris Gayle might not have played in the series, but he remained the hottest topic of discussion during the series; He did attend some of the games though, where his afro during the final game was a show stealer.
- West Indian umpires have proved that they can be even worse than their Indian counterparts.
- Throughout the series, the only Indian commentator I heard was Sunil Gavaskar. Small mercies.
- Lendl Simmons can bat. Its just that he has not learned to bat as long as possible. One of two batsmen in the West Indian team who can boast of good consistency.
- Ramnaresh Sarwan might not be the same batsman he once was, but there is no doubting that he still retains the same fighting spirit.
- Marlon Samuels is not a batsman most Indian fans would forget in a hurry, after all the thumpings he administered to the Indian team in the early 2000s; He is still slowly getting into his groove, which is not a good sign for opposition bowlers.
- It has been drummed over our heads that Darren Bravo bats like Brian Lara; in the final game of the series, he added some substance to the style to give the Caribbean something to cheer about.
- Kieron Pollard still needs to convince many that he can perform against top teams, despite handy contributions towards the end of the series.
- Like his Indian counterpart, Carlton Baugh is short and handy with the bat; unlike his Indian counterpart, he is reliable behind the stumps, showcasing his skills in the 4th game.
- Darren Sammy might never be accepted as a deserving member of the team, let alone its captain. Still, he showed a lot of heart with decent performances at the start of the series, even as his team-mates floundered around him.
- Andre Russell is starting to become the new poster boy of West Indies cricket. With the ball, he is quick and has a precious knack of taking wickets at crucial junctures; with the bat, he is feisty and as he showed in the 4th game, he can give the ball quite a thump. Now all West Indies needs to do is protect him from a few IPL franchise owners.
- I expected a lot from Devendra Bishoo, but it was another leg spinner who rose to prominence in this series; Anthony Martin might be a professional fire fighter, but when it comes to cricket, he is all for creating panic amongst the opposition. If handled properly, West Indies might just end up with two quality leg spinners in their ranks.
- Shikhar Dhawan and Manoj Tiwary might be two of the more promising batsmen in Indian cricket, but in this series, they looked out of their depth. Looks like more India A tours might do the trick.
- Parthiv Patel played all games in the series, depriving W Saha any chance of making an impression in the absence of MS Dhoni. He did his job as a batsman, though his keeping behind the stumps still left a lot to be desired.
- Virat Kohli has established himself as the best batsman of the younger lot. A place in the Test team beckons, and he might just leapfrog Suresh Raina in the captaincy stakes next time.
- Rohit Sharma could well turn out to be a typical West Indian cricketer; for all his talent and high praise received from peers and experts, he has rarely done any justice to his skill. This series, he took a step towards correcting that, with a couple of match winning knocks and bagging the Man of the Series award. Only time will tell if this was a break-out series for him, or just another flash in the pan.
- Subramaniam Badrinath is running out of time. The senior-most player among the second rung, he does not have age in his favor and has had to sit back and watch young guns like Sharma and Kohli steal the show. While he guided India to victory in the only T20I, he didn’t make enough use of his chances in the ODI series, thereby signalling a possibly premature end to his ODI career. He still has the Test series to prove himself; whether he gets a chance is another matter.
- Yusuf Pathan is not quite in the same boat as Badrinath, but he cannot live off two blistering centuries forever. With the ball, he was steady but non-threatening. With the bat, he didn’t quite set any pulses racing. Luckily for him, his competition did not do that either.
- Suresh Raina had a poor series. On one hand, he captained the team to his maiden series win; on the other, he combusted as a batsman, perishing to the same infuriating slog shot, over and over again. Along with Kohli and Sharma, he is a player for the future; but if he keeps performing like this, the critics will be baying for his blood soon.
- This was a series for the Indian spinners, in particular Amit Mishra. He came into the series with a lot to prove, after his omission from the World Cup squad. At the end of it, he made the selectors look foolish with his returns. R Ashwin impressed in the brief opportunities he got, though he would love to take more wickets and forget his last two overs in the final game.
- Among the seamers, Praveen Kumar impressed, ultimately earning a call up to the Test squad. Munaf was called a ‘spinner’ by a West Indian pace legend, but he still remains as one of the few quality pace bowlers in the side. Ishant Sharma and Vinay Kumar showed glimpses of their abilities, but still have a way to go before they can be considered as regulars in this format of the game.
- All in all, the 3-2 margin is a fair call; India’s second string team was marginally better than a West Indies team sans Chris Gayle. If anything, this should increase expectations for a tighter contest in the Test series.
The men entrusted to win the World Cup at home, in front of thousands of cheering fans in the stadiums and millions around the country, have been announced. They will be expected to win their first World Cup trophy since 1983, and will aspire to be the first home nation to walk away with the prize (Sri Lanka in 1996 doesn’t count).
These are the chosen 15:
Personally, I think the selectors did a good job. I agree with 14 of their choices (which is way better than the 9 I agreed with, in WC 2007). Frankly, Rohit Sharma’s omission is not surprising to me; unlike Yusuf Pathan and Munaf Patel, he never grabbed his opportunities to impress. The only bone of contention is the 15th spot, which went to Piyush Chawla. India might be playing at home in spin friendly conditions, but it is still one spinner too many. With Harbhajan as the first choice spinner and loads of part-timers to support him, it is hard to see a second specialist spinner getting a game. Ashwin was always my second choice, since he has always grabbed his opportunities in whatever limited chances he has got. In case of an injury to Harbhajan, he can step up as the replacement. I find it hard to believe that after all that Dhoni has said, India will play with 5 bowlers, including two spinners; and for all of Chawla’s abilities as a bowler who can bat, it wouldn’t be wise to risk playing him in the biggest tournament of all, when the last time he played for India was almost 2 years ago. So instead of carrying Chawla as a passenger, they could have had a specialist batsmen who can field well as a sub (Rohit Sharma, though I wouldn’t give him a game) or a backup keeper (Parthiv Patel, who was unfairly overlooked in favor of Dinesh Karthik for much of the last four years). Then again, this is the 15th spot we are talking about, and I doubt it is going to make a big difference. I for one, am grateful that the selectors resisted the urge to select Dinesh Karthik or Ravindra Jadeja!
PS: Watch Srikkanth’s hilarious interview on Cricinfo about the WC squad….Geoff Miller is not the only chief selector who can earn money through after dinner speeches!