Cricket World Cup 2015 – Selections, Controversies and omissions

India announced their squad of 15 for 2015 cricket world cup to begin in Australia/New Zealand next month. While everyone agrees that 13 out of the 15 pick themselves there are few questions raised about couple of spots in the squad. Let us first look at the 15 member squad picked.

Squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Akshar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Stuart Binny

Let us look at the controversial picks and the questions raised about a few who were not picked in the squad.

The controversial pick:

Stuart Binny (ODI – 6, Runs – 40, Ave – 13.33, wickets – 9, Ave – 13.0, Best – 6/4):

Stuart Binny’s selection has been the most controversial and most discussed one in the squad of 15. Even though the theory is that the Indian team is looking for a medium pace all-rounder, the argument against it is that India already have 3 bowling all-rounders in the team and would have done well to go with an extra pacer. Binny has played 6 ODI’s for India and to be frank except for the Bangladesh ODI series he hardly bowled in the other ODI’s he played for India. MS Dhoni seemed to lack any confidence in the bowler and did not bowl him enough in New Zealand earlier this year in the ODI series. MS Dhoni used him sparingly in the test series in England too when he was picked as a bowling all-rounder. But Stuart Binny does provide an interesting choice for India on the hard wickets of Australia and New Zealand where India are likely to play only one spinner.

The controversy obviously is stemmed from the fact that Stuart’s father is part of the selection committee and also due to his underwhelming performance in the little chances he got but again all is not lost as he can still prove his detractors wrong.

The Non-Selection:

There were lots of eyebrows raised when the following players did not make the Squad.

Yuvraj Singh:

Yuvraj Singh was the most high profile omission from the World Cup squad. Yuvraj Singh was India’s player of the tournament in the successful 2011 campaign, so most questioning his exclusion are pointing to his ability as a match winner. Yuvraj being in brilliant form for his state in Ranji Trophy is also a reason for the uproar. The reality though is that Yuvraj Singh hasn’t been part of the Indian ODI plans for some time now. Yuvraj’s last ODI for India was about a year ago and has not been part of the ODI set up since then. Yuvraj had a nightmare ODI series at home against the Aussies and has been in indifferent form since his comeback to the team after he was diagnosed of Cancer after the world cup 2011. Yuvraj Singh has played 18 ODI’s since world cup 2011. He has scored 278 runs in those games at an average of 18.93 with just 2 fifties. So to be frank the questions over Yuvraj’s exclusion have been mostly emotional rather than based on performances.

Murali Vijay:

Vijay has been the toast of the nation over the last year or so. His brilliant performance in test cricket overseas has made the fans and experts question his exclusion as the possible 3rd opener in the ODI squad. Murali Vijay has played few ODI’s for India and has not done particularly well. I don’t think his performance in test cricket automatically warrants a spot in the CW2015 squad. Murali Vijay was never in the radar for the ODI team and he hasn’t played too many games for India in recent times to demand a selection in a high profile tournament like the world cup. His non-selection is less controversial when compared to few others.

Bowling (Pacers: Mohit Sharma and Varun Aaron, Spinners: Karn Sharma and Amit Mishra):

The world cup this year is going to be held in Australia and New Zealand. The Indian squad contains three spinning all-rounders in the team. Ravichandran Ashwin will be leading the spin attack and we have Akshar Patel and Ravindra Jadeja as other two spin options. Question needs to be raised at the selection of both Ravi Jadeja and Akshar in the squad as both of them are similar type bowlers. Both of them are left-Arm spinners and left-Handed bats. The both are similar bowlers and don’t provide any variation from each other. The selection of 3 spinners is not an issue as the big Australian grounds could provide a great opportunity for the spinners to be effective but selecting two spinners so similar to each other is the problem. If India wanted 3 spinners, they could have gone with Amit Mishra or Karn Sharma who would have provided a variation to Ashwin and Jadeja.

The selection of an extra pacer would have been a better call rather than similar spin option. Varun Aaron who impressed one and all with his pace in Australia could have been a good addition to the squad even though he has been found to be little bit of a spray gun. Mohit Sharma who has done a good job for India in little opportunities he has received could have provided the much needed control to the pace attack which can leak a lots of runs on the hard surfaces in Australia.

Apart from the above few selections the rest of the squad ended up on expected lines. The Indian ODI team over the last couple of years has been stable and the squad which won the ODI series in England has been retained. The final X1 for the first game will be really interesting. Will India play Binny and Ashwin in the squad? Or will they go with Jadeja and Ashwin in the X1 will be an interesting predicament for the Indian think tank. Akshar Patel who has been brilliant in the home games could get a look in ahead of Jadeja in the squad too. The tri-series in Australia could provide the Indian think tank with all the answers, since they will be playing in Australia where the 2015 world cup is going to be held. India should use this series to test out various combinations to arrive at a possible X1 for their first game for the world cup.

Indian team needs Bajji the bowler more than Bajji the batsman

It was brilliant to watch Bajji play in the last couple of games. Coming into the 5th day at Ahmadabad, India was starring at an embarrassing defeat against 8th ranked New Zealand. Bajji who walked out to bat with Laxman batted brilliantly to save the game for the Indians with a brilliant hundred, his first in test cricket. He followed up that innings with another blistering hundred in the next game in Hyderabad to prove that the innings in the first test was not a fluke by any means.

So great news, we have unearthed a good lower order batsman but have we lost a bowler in the process? Rewind 4 years back to another case of similar transition which ruined a career of a promising bowler. Irfan Pathan was a brilliant find for India and for couple of years since his debut in 2004 he was a good new ball bowler who can bat a bit. Later for some reason his bowling took a back seat and he started batting so well that he could have walked into the X1 just as a batsman. The team management though said that he needs to concentrate on his bowling as it was his primary skill and sent him back home in the middle of an overseas tour. Is the management ready to take the same decision with Bajji if the trend continues?

Indian bowling has suffered really badly in recent times. The number 1 ranking and the brilliant win/loss record does not give us the complete picture. The truth is that the Indian bowlers have been hugely benefitted by the great batting line up. The Indian batting has been able to rake up tall scores, which helped the bowlers to put pressure on the batting sides to force a result. Harbajan Singh also has struggled as a bowler over the last couple of years. Except for couple of performances, one against New Zealand last year and one against South Africa earlier this year, he has been largely mediocre. To be frank none of the spinners have looked the part in the recent years.

If we look at Bajji’s record this year, you will see that he has really struggled with this bowling; he averages 44.72 with the ball this year with just one 5 wicket haul. His batting though has had an upswing as with his recent exploits, he has an impressive average of 33 with 2 hundreds. To be frank as an Indian supporter I would like to see Bajji contribute more with his bowling rather than with his batting. Indian bowling struggles without Zaheer and the spin department has been in a mess for over 2 years now since the retirement of Anil Kumble. Harbajan Singh was supposed to take the mantle from the great Kumble but unfortunately he has struggled to step into his shoes.

I am not sure how to take his sudden surge in batting form. Even though his three innings have helped India immensely in this ongoing series, his bowling has been a huge let down. He has one more match to redeem himself before we set out to South Africa next month. India would surely need a decent performance from him against South Africa to complement the pace attack if we have to challenge the host. Only the coming months will tell us how his career will shape out. If he continues to perform badly with the ball, in spite of his valuable batting the selectors might want to look for other options. I hope that Bajji doesn’t follow in Irfan’s footsteps and rediscovers his bowling form. India needs Bajji the bowler more than Bajji the batsmen in the coming months which I am sure he is very well aware of.

In search of an all rounder

Bajji walks back after playing a blinder against the Aussies in the first ODI in Vadodara

Bajji walks back after playing a blinder against the Aussies in the first ODI in Vadodara

In a recent interview Bajji (Harbhajan Singh) told the media that his captain Dhoni had told him to concentrate on batting a bit more. This shows Dhoni’s desperation for a good all rounder in the team. Bajji for his part has done a brilliant job as he has been contributing consistently in Tests and scored 4 fifties last year. But is this the right path for the premier spinner in the Indian team? Bajji’s primary role in the team should be to take wickets and help his side to win more games and anything other than that should be a bonus.

Since Kapil retired from all forms of cricket in 94/95 the Indian team has been in search of an able all rounder to replace the legend but has been largely unsuccessful in doing so. India tried out various options in the mid and late nineties but none of them were able to fill the big void Kapil had left in the squad. In the last 15 years the only player who came close to filling that spot was Irfan Pathan. Irfan was a brilliant bowler when he made his debut in 2004 and was more than useful with the bat.

But unfortunately things went downhill for Irfan after his first year in International cricket. During “Guru” Greg’s tenure as Indian coach things changed for Irfan as he was used more as a batsman in the ODI squad. He bowling declined due to that switch and Irfan now is no more a regular fixture in the Indian team. Dhoni and Kirsten need to be careful as they wouldn’t want Bajji to follow that route.

India needs to unearth a bowling all rounder from the domestic scene to fill the all rounder spot. Irfan himself is an option. In the recent ODI against the Aussies, Bajji and Praveen almost pulled off an improbable victory. Can Praveen Kumar be a candidate for the all rounder spot? You never know. The Indian think tank need to make sure that they don’t put too much pressure on the Indian bowlers to perform with the bat, since that may affect their bowling. Yes the bowlers need to contribute with the bat but should be a bonus and not their primary role.

Australia during their prime played with some bits and pieces all rounders but was still able to win due to a good bowling attack. India needs to keep that in mind, even though an all rounder is an important cog in the wheel of a successful team, specialists are essential too. As the Indian team continues to search for an all rounder, the Bajji’s and Praveen’s can concentrate on what they do best that is to win games with their bowling and their batting contributions should just be a bonus.