India’s Squad for Cricket World Cup 2015 – My Team!

With the advent of 2015, the Cricket World Cup year has finally arrived much to the delight of passionate fans across the globe. The countdown has already begun with hardly a month and a half left for the mega event. It is also that time when the national selectors of all teams try to chalk out the final fifteen from the initial thirty member World Cup squad, trying all sorts of possible permutations and combinations. The Indian selection panel led by Sandeep Patil will have to make some hard decisions ahead as they announce squad of 15 on January 6th in Mumbai.

Needless to say, Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni will play a pivotal role in the scheme of things. The BCCI psychology of Team selection was out very clearly when they selected the 30-man probable squad which also had the stamp of Dhoni all over it. Underperforming seniors like Harbhajan Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan had to make way for fresh and raw talent. Though the young brigade of Dhoni has done exceedingly well in recent times, it will still be an uphill task to defend the title in not so friendly conditions of Australia and New Zealand which makes the task of selection a bit exigent.

A look at the fringe players:

Batsmen Manish Pandey and Manoj Tiwary had a successful outing in the recently concluded Vijay Hazare Trophy. Pandey was the leading run scorer with 472 runs at an average of 118. Tiwary too got runs at an average of 60 as he amassed 302 runs for Bengal. However, both players had a poor Quadrangular ODI Series in Australia back in August 2014. Moreover, both the players did not get a call in the home series against Sri Lanka which indicates that they are unlikely to make the final cut.

Maharashtra batsman Kedar Jadhav’s name should also be possible discussed during the meet. Jadhav not only debuted for India against Sri Lanka which indicates that he is on the selector’s rador, the young and explosive Maharashtra batsman had a splendid Quadrangular series. He was the second highest run getter scoring 225 runs at an average of 56.25 in four games.

The role of a reserved wicket-keeper becomes important in a long tournament like a World Cup. Though Wriddhiman Saha has been India’s regular reserve wicket-keeper in Tests, his ODI form has been disappointing to guarantee a spot. He played only three matches in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and managed 94 runs.

Robin Uthappa’s name comes next to mind. The Karnataka batsman has been vocal about his desire to play the World Cup. He also got a national call-up for two matches in the Sri Lanka series but could not impress owing to lack of opportunities. Uthappa had a tough time in Australia during the Quadrangular series, averaging abysmal 19.14.

Next comes the case of Sanju Samson. The youngster from Kerala became a household name after a successful IPL stint with Rajasthan Royals. Samson has also been a prolific run getter on ‘A’ tours consistently. He was the top scorer in Quadrangular series and earned a spot for the ODI Series against England in September. However, it remains to be seen whether the selectors pick an uncapped player straightaway for a World Cup.

Murali Vijay is having a dream Test series in Australia and the selectors will be more than tempted to pick him as the eighth batsman in the squad.

Yuvraj Singh’s back to back three centuries in the ongoing Ranji Trophy 2014-15 has created ripples in the Indian media. However, it is unlikely that he will be drafted into the team having failed to make the 30-man probable squad.

The selection of Karn Sharma into the Indian Test team for Australia tour was an ambitious one as a good show would have given him a chance of keeping his place after two ordinary games against Sri Lanka in the home series. But a poor show in the first Test has hampered his chances of making the team as the third spinner, a position with many contenders.

A toss-up is expected for the fifth bowler’s spot between Varun Aaron, Stuart Binny and Dhawal Kulkarni. Aaron is having a forgetful Test series down under which is making things difficult for him. The team management would be wary of the idea of having both Aaron and Yadav in the squad as both could go astray and leak runs at the speed of light. Binny’s medium-pace deliveries failed on English pitches earlier this year but the team management might look at him as the all-rounder in swinging and seaming conditions. Moreover, it always helps when your dad is one of the national selectors!

So finally, I am sticking my neck out as I list down my final squad of 15 for the World Cup.

Team Combination

With the World Cup to be played on fast and bouncy pitches of Australia and New Zealand, five fast bowlers are a must for a long tournament. Though it is debatable to go with three spinners, the consistent performances of some players have made it difficult for me to overlook them.

I, therefore go with the tested and successful formula of ICC Champions Trophy 2013 – Seven Batsmen, Three spinners/all-rounders and five pacers.

Batsmen

The Indian opening pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma is confirmed followed by Ajinkya Rahane as the reserved opener and Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina in the middle-order. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni walks into the team as wicket-keeper batsman.

Ambati Rayudu has done full justice to his selection into the Indian Team. The right hand Andhra batsman has scored at an average of 45 plus in 24 odd games he has played so far. He also got his first three digit score against Sri Lanka in November last year. A regular former wicket-keeper for Mumbai Indians during IPL, Rayudu walks into my team as the seventh batsman and a back up keeper for Dhoni.

Spinners

Despite an average year for Ravichandran Ashwin, he remains India’s most experienced spinner and is an automatic selection. His improved performances in the Brisbane and Melbourne Test only increase our hopes and expectations. Add to that his handy batting skills at No. 8 for India.

Ravindra Jadeja surprisingly has been far ahead of Ashwin over the last eighteen months. He was the leading wicket taker in the Champions Trophy 2013 in England with 12 scalps at an excellent economy rate of 3.75.  He continued his good run in New Zealand. He was the second highest wicket-taker in the series and scored crucial runs in crunch situations to finish at No. 3 in top run-getters, averaging 48.8 in five games. Jadeja’s records speak for his performances in overseas conditions which makes him an essential part of India’s World Cup campaign.

Akshar Patel is my surprise pick as India’s spin all-rounder. After a successful stint with Kings XI Punjab during IPL 2014, Akshar’s graph has risen with spectacular performances with both bat and ball in crunch situations. He has effectively played the role of a miser for every team that he has played for. He picked 9 wickets during the ‘A’ tour (Quadrangular Series) at an average of 4.35. He already has 14 international wickets to his name in 9 matches played so far at an impressive economy rate of 4.49. His ability to hit the ball and keep a tight length while bowling will help him on long outfields in Australia.

Fast Bowlers

Bhuvaneshwar Kumar will be India’s pace attack leader on helpful decks of Australia and New Zealand. Despite a poor form in Test matches, Mohammed Shami has done just enough to be picked for the World Cup. Shami was the only successful bowler for India during the New Zeald tour when he picked up 14 scalps in five games and the same is expected from him again.

India’s most experienced bowler Ishant Sharma will be critical to India’s success as the tall lanky seamer has the ability to hit the deck hard and extract good bounce and purchase from the surface. Umesh Yadav’s pace brings a new dimension to the largely medium-pace bowing attack.

Dhawal Kulkarni is my final selection for the medium pacer’s role. Having been first selected for the New Zealand Tour of 2009, it took him nearly five years to finally make his debut against England in September last year. He had a decent home series against Sri Lanka, picking up 8 wickets in three matches. He also grabbed 14 wickets in Quadrangular Tri-Series for India ‘A’.

My Indian Team for World Cup 2015:

Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sarma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu(WK), Mahendra Singh Dhoni (C/WK), Akshar Patel, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Dhawal Kulkarni.

Selection conundrum for Dhoni ahead of First Test

After a captivating Two Test series against Sri Lanka, the hosts are ready for another showdown with an inexperienced yet a meaty Indian team. It has been a miserable three year period for Indians in Test Cricket. Since taking over as head coach in May 2011, the duo of Duncan Fletcher and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni have failed to win a single test match overseas apart from a solitary win in West Indies three years back. Another Big Test awaits the Indian team, full of hopes and aspirations as the younger stars take full control.

As the build-up of the high profile series continues, a catch-22 situation lies ahead for captain Dhoni. 

• Gambhir vs Vijay – Gautam Gambhir’s comeback into the national test team has created problems for opener Murali Vijay who has been seen struggling of late. Apart from a grilling 97 run innings in Durban, he was found wanting against South Africa. His performance deteriorated on the New Zealand tour where he managed only 48 runs at an average of 12 in the two tests. He further harmed his chances in two warm up games against Leicestershire and Derbyshire by scoring 63 in three innings. Gambhir, on the other hand, got 75 in two innings. Apart from that, he is coming from a successful IPL season.

Though Gautam has experience of playing in England and some sort of form going in for him, it is likely that Dhoni will back Vijay for atleast two test matches.

• Ashwin vs Jadeja vs Binny – Despite being India’s No. 1 frontline spinner, R. Ashwin has struggled to make it big overseas. He has been criticised for bowling negative and defensive line to the batsmen and trying a lot of variations in one go which has hampered his wicket taking stock ball. He played only one match in South Africa and was benche dfor the New Zealand Tour. And if recent trends are to be seen, Ashwin in all likelihood is not in Dhoni’s mind for the first playing XI on this tour. It was a perfect opportunity for him to sweat it out in the warm up games but he was given only 14 overs to bowl in three innings, leaking runs at an economy of over 5 and going wicketless.

Ravindra Jadeja bagged 9 wickets in his last three away tests and did the bulk of the bowling in the practise games. 

The new entrant Stuart Binny hogged the limelight early on his first overseas tour by smashing 81 runs against Leicestershire. He also bowled 19 overs and took 2 wickets.

This will be the biggest dilemma for the team management ahead of the Test match at Trent Bridge which is considered a safe home for seamers. Even England’s former spinner G. Swann had struggled on this ground despite his good form. If Binny is selected then India will go into the test match with four seamers and without a spinner, a practise seldom followed. And India’s win record has been absymal whenever this move is tested. 

The other alternative is playing one spinner along with Stuart Binny. But, in that case, any one middle order batsman has to be dropped. Rohit Sharma will then have to sit out as Ajinka Rahane has been India’s prolific run scorer in the away Tests. Rohit had an ordinary Test series against South Africa and New Zealand but showed glimpses of form against Leicestershire. Moreover, shelving a batsman from an already weak batting unit in swinging conditionsdoesn’t look like a wise call.

• Ishant vs Pankaj Singh – India’s domestic cricket powerhouse Pankaj Singh has finally been rewarded with success and if everything goes well, the tall seamer sould well make his debut on July 9th. His impressive show against Leicestershire would have brought him in the good books of the captain and coach. 

Regardless of Ishant’s brilliance in New Zealand, he had a nightmare game agaisnt the Leics, being smacked for four consecuitve fours at one point and looked completely out of rhythm. Inspite of that, he bowled the maximum number of overs in both games which is an indicator that the captain wants his most experienced seamer to play in the first test. Moreover, with Zaheer Khan not a part of the team, there will be serious lack of experience in the bowling department if Ishant sits out.

There will be many vexed questions for the team management to answer but if past record is anything to go by, the Indians will play it safe in the opener.

India XI (Likely) – Shikhar, Vijay, Pujara, Kohli, Rohit, Rahane, Dhoni, Jadeja, Bhuvaneshwar, Ishant, Shami.

 

 

 

 

Mystifying tactics hurting Team India

The best part of Gary Kirsten’s golden phase was the tranquillity and serene atmosphere in the Indian dressing room which his predecessor Greg Chappell had almost wrecked. Another striking feature of Guru Gary’s term of office was the brilliant team management and rotation of players in a busy cricket calender. But it seems that the incumbent coach Duncan Fletcher, along with captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been unsuccessful in carrying forward this custom.

India continued their horror run in Asia Cup and found themselves in cold waters, once again failing to make it to the finals. An inconsequential match against Afghanistan was still to be played and it was a perfect opportunity to test the bench strength and give a much needed exposure to Cheteshwar Pujara and Ishwar Pandey, who have been carrying the drinks throughout the tournament.

But the fans were in for a shock once again as the same XI was used against the new entrants in ODI cricket, thereby defying all cricketing logic and sense. In fact, if we look at India’s team selection post the 2011 World Cup, then it doesn’t seem surprising at all.

Back in the English summer of 2011, the World champs suffered a humiliating 0-4 drubbing in the Pataudi Trophy and lost the ODI series as well, failing to win a single match. Despite regular failures of the tried and tested medium pacers, no changes were made to the side. Varun Aaron, India’s new fast bowling sensation, spent all his time warming the benches when he could have got a handy experience on his first foreign tour.

The same trend followed down under later that year. India kept on losing Tests but Pragyan Ojha was ignored despite the string of bad performances from Ravichandran Ashwin.

How unlucky is Amit Mishra to have played so less despite making his debut in December 2004?

Amit Mishra can probably be called the unluckiest cricketer of his time, though Manoj Tiwari could give him a tough fight too. The leggie made his debut in December 2004, but till date has played only 23 ODIs. Mishra was once again overlooked in New Zealand, despite Ashwin and Jadeja’s struggle. Barring his lean patch here and there, he has always proved himself in the limited opportunities. And his recent exploits against Pakistan in the do or die game is a testimony to that.

Unfortunately, the team management’s preconceptions about a leg-spinner not taking wickets has dented his chances to play as a regular for the national team and that too when your main spinner has struggled to take wickets overseas.

Parvez Rasool was also not considered against Zimbabwe in a 5-match ODI series when India already had a 3-0 unbeatable lead.

Stuart Binny got a call to the team from the selectors in the hope that the final piece of the jigsaw – a medium pacer bowling all-rounder could be fixed. With the World Cup 2015 in Oceania, the selection couldn’t have been more apt. But Alas! The handling of Binny by the team management was shocking to say the least and he was made to feel as an outsider, making it look like the team management had confidence in him. In spite of the snub, he continued his glorious run with both bat and ball in the Irani Trophy.

Over the years we have seen strange selections and recalls to the Indian team despite non performances. RP Singh’s name comes to mind straight away. There was a rumoured tiff between the selection committee and MS Dhoni regarding Irfan Pathan a few years back.

Time and again it has been alleged that Dhoni has favoured players from the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL or given them an extended run. It is pertinent to ask whether a groupism has crept in the Indian dressing room, or is it just poor and lazy team strategy?

Another big flaw in Dhoni’s captaincy recently has been the inability to take risks in challenging conditions and just going through the motions. India have seldom found themselves in driver’s seat, but only to deceive at the last moment.

Whether it’s chasing 86 runs in 15 overs on the last day of Dominica Test in 2011 and settling for a draw, or losing out steam against South Africa in Johannesburg on Day 5, the indications are for all to see.

Is it true that a captain has a shelf life? Has he overlived it? Is it the end of Dhoni’s midas touch? Or is it a team in transition? The answers must be sought quickly!

The good old days of ODI Cricket

At this juncture, the cricket world is abuzz with the prophecy of the ODI format of the game. The standpoint though is divided. One school of thought is that it won’t last for long. While the others feel that all three forms of cricket are here to stay. Being a perennial lover of the 50 over cricket, it triggered me to contemplate what has happened in the last decade or so that has brought about some sort of aversion to the fans ? There could be multiple reasons.

As the world moves on at a rapid pace in this era of globalization and marketing, there is a slump in core values in every walk of life. The simplicity of the 80s and the 90s is nowhere to be seen. Mindless spectacle at any costs has the highest priority.

And cricket has also failed to survive in this complex time that we live. It is no rocket science that T20 cricket has affected the ODI structure more than Test cricket. Pitches are becoming national highways. The boundaries are hardly 70 metres. Every year, the ICC tweaks the rules of the game further and deeper to make batsman’s life simpler. There are only 3 fielders left outside the inner ring in the batting powerplay to face the wrath of the ever improving power of the bats. We have free hits now as a deterrent for bowling no balls. The curators are under constant pressure to produce belters for the sake of entertainment. 3oo is the new par score and an economy rate of 6 is laudable.

The game is now controlled by the economics and the conjecture of profit and loss. Television broadcasters decide the feasibility of a tour or a series. All these indicators bring home the point that the ‘spectator’ has merely become diabolically drab that all it craves for is the white ball being smacked out of the park.

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But do we really want that?

 

ODI Cricket was at its pinnacle in the late 90s and early 2000s. More often than not contests were even and stadiums packed to the rafters. Remember the spectators dancing and enjoying to the tunes of Sachin Tendulkar’s magic  in Sharjah? The very popular and famous Australian tri-series existed. Don’t we miss those riveting chases of Micheal Bevan or a magical bowling spell of Muttiah Muralidharan ! The dangerous Gilchrist – Hayden exploits and the charm of low scoring thrillers. Even West Indies was a fierce side back then.

First innings totals used to be between 230-270. Boundary ropes were far enough to keep the spinners interested. Pitches had that juice which the bowlers could extract. There was an equilibrium among the bat and ball. Many more tri – nation tournaments prevailed which caught the imagination of the fans. There were no powerplays or free hits. Still we had the very successful World Cups (1996,1999 and 2003) in this period. Bilateral series were shorter but crisper.

There is no doubt that change is the law of life. Flexibility in thinking is essential to carry forward the sport. But we must never forget the essence of the game. One day cricket doesn’t have the charisma and the allure that it once proudly possessed. It is time that we go back in time and reinvent this sport that we all love so dearly.

 

My wishlist for Kings XI Punjab

The Indian Premier League might be two months away but the exhilaration and anticipation of what is to transpire in the forthcoming Players Auction has set the cricket fans buzzing. With more than 500 international and domestic players going under the hammer thus time, one can expect  long but eventful two days in Bangalore. The general elections this year have made the things more messy. Since there is no clarity on the venues, it will be a task cut out for the team managements to build a squad covering all the aspects and conditions of the game proportionately for the IPL caravan might be heading to Sri Lanka, UAE or even South Africa.

It is a proven point that almost half the battle is won or lost in these auctions every year. A good day in the office propels a team’s chances. That’s precisely the reason why financially stronger teams have consistently performed well.

If you are a loyal supporter of the Mohali based franchisee Kings XI Punjab then you must be frustrated. KXIP, from the last three years have kept themselves in the hunt for the playoffs till their last league match but only to falter. It has been 5 seasons since they played a semi – final and it is high time that the Punjab think tank gets their act together and try to bolster the squad with some ‘big’ players.

Here’s my ‘realistic’ wishlist for the Kings XI Punjab.

The big stars

1. Shaun Marsh – Difficult to imagine a KXIP squad without the southpaw, Marsh has scored consistently for his team in every season that he featured in. A big asset at the top of the order.

2. David Hussey – This T20 veteran might be ignored by his country but he brings a lot to offer. Apart from a partnership builder and an acrobat in the field, he is a street smart cricketer with an intelligent cricket brain. In the absence of Adam Gilchrist, he led the KXIP during IPL 5 for a brief period with a good success rate. A captain material.

3. Yuvraj Singh –  The original Punjabi hero, Yuvraj’s record in IPL and Mohali in particular has been uninspiring but he remains a star and a lethal T20 specialist. No wonder the local team would love his homecoming.

4. Azhar Mahmood – He should be retained via Right to Match card. Another T20  expert, Azhar brings a balance which is very critical.

5. Mahela Jayawardene – A former passout of KXIP, the classy Jayawardene is an attractive commodity for any team. He can be your opener as well as a middle order batsman. Another captain stuff.

Domestic heroes

6. Parvez Rasool – He led J&K almost single handedly to the quarter finals of Ranji Trophy this season. A threatening spinner and a batsman, he is an ideal all-rounder for a T20 tournament.

7. Manvinder Bisla – With Gilchrist’s departure, the team needs a genuine wicket keeper. Bisla could be the answer as he has already proved his mettle for Kolkata Knight Riders. He was also involved with Kings XI in IPL 3.

8. Sandeep Sharma – An Indian U19 hero. Bowls beautiful swingers. Could be a threat on helpful Mohali tracks.

9. Rajat Bhatia– One of the most underrated IPL player. A decent hitter down the order and a miser with the ball. Proven credentials.

10. Rishi Dhawan – Leading wicket taker in Ranji Trophy this year. He relished a dream run in domestic cricket. A very handy batsman as well.

11. Mandeep Singh – Despite being inconsistent at times, a pillar for Punjab in domestic matches. A local lad.

The familiar faces – Others like Parwinder Awana, Manpreet Gony, Praveen Kumar and Piyush Chawla have done reasonably well for KXIP and most of them should find themselves back in the setup.

The elements of surprise – VRV Singh’s successful comeback may help him get a recall from Kings XI. Manpreet Juneja’s highly successful run for Punjab could be fruitful for him. Paul Valthaty turned out to be a one season wonder but may be a dark horse in the race.

Rumor has it that KXIP team management is very much interested in Virender Sehwag and Kevin Pietersen and would exploit thier larger kitty. However, chances are bleak as Delhi Daredevils have 3 joker cards intact. 

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