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.
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.
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.
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.
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.