Their squad announced, can India defend the Champions Trophy?

The Indian squad for the upcoming Champions Trophy 2017 was finally announced after threats from BCCI to pull out.

India will begin their title defence on June 4 with a game against their arch-rivals Pakistan.

The Indian squad has as much as 9 players from the victorious 2013 campaign.

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Young players will be under the spot light for India

India has never played a bilateral ODI series in Australia before, so this will be a new experience for the Indian team. The Australian team is always difficult to beat at home and India traditionally hasn’t done well in Australia. The Australian team is the current world champion and it will take a huge effort by this young Indian team to compete in this series.

The Indian team is young but has a seasoned leader in MS Dhoni. This tour will be a new experience for the youngsters in the team and they will be under spot light throughout the tour. Let us look at the Indian ODI squad for picked for this series:

ODI squad: MS Dhoni (capt), R Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Axar Patel, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Gurkeerat Singh, Rishi Dhawan, Barinder Sran

There are some new faces in the squad and with Shami’s injury Ishant and Umesh will be expected to lead the pace attack. The batting will depend on the experience of Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. Ajinkya Rahane who has been in great form will also be expected to contribute in the middle order for the team. With 5 batting spots already taken there are two open spots in the middle/lower order ODI series. One spot is for sure going to an all-rounder. The front runner for that spot should be Rishi Dhawan. Rishi Dhawan has done well in the practice games ahead of the series and has some experience playing in Australia representing the emerging players X1 for India. He is expected to get a look in in the first ODI. The number 6 batting slot will be a tossup between Manish Pandey and Gurkeerat Singh.

Manish Pandey batted brilliantly in the warm up game and also is a brilliant fielder. Gurkeerat Singh also is a very good young player and he offers India with an option of an additional spin bowling option. So this will be an interesting decision. Also it will be interesting to see if India will go with 2 bowling all-rounder option with Ravi Jadeja and Rishi Dhawan. Ashwin will most probably be India’s lone spinner for the first ODI and with injury to Mohammed Shami, Ishant and Umesh are most likely options to take the new ball. If India opts to go for 3 pace bowling option then Barinder Sran is most likely going to make his international debut at WACA.

This is going to be an interesting series for India and the young players will be under pressure to perform and make an impact. Gurkeerat Singh and Manish Pandey have been waiting in the wings for some time now to make it to the ODI X1 and this will be a perfect launch pad for them to stake their claim. MS Dhoni would be hoping that India can turn their ODI fortunes around at the start of 2016 and his leadership will play a crucial part in this series. The experienced top order will be expected to make consistent contributions if India is going to push Australia in both ODI and T20 series. Below is the likely X1 for the first ODI at the WACA. I am expecting Jadeja and Axar to miss out from the X1. I don’t think the Indian team is going to play two spinners at the WACA. The closest tossup will be between Gurkeerat Singh and Manish Pandey but I think Gurkeerat might get the nod as he is a decent spinner as well.

Indian X1 for First ODI (Likely): Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey/Gurkeerat Singh, MS Dhoni (capt), Rishi Dhawan, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Barinder Sran

Even though this will be a tough series for the young team, I expect them to give a good account of themselves and may be even win the series with contributions from the senior players.

Criticizing a young team is not fair

India has been traditionally been a poor traveling team. The team has hardly won overseas even with some legends in the team in the past. India has only won 40 tests overseas out of 247 games with a W/L ratio of 0.377. India’s overseas record post Ganguly era is impressive. India has won 27 tests overseas since November 10, 2000 (The first time Ganguly captained in tests) out of 91 tests since that period. The W/L ratio since that period is very respectable 0.75. So if we take that period out we have 13 test wins overseas in 156 games at a W/L ratio of 0.185 which is extremely poor record.

The Ganguly era basically made the overall test record slightly better than the horrible record we had prior to that. It is not like the India had a poor test team  before that. India lost all those tests with legends in the team like Sunil Gavaskar, Bedi, Prasanna, Kapil Dev, GR Vishwanath, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Amarnath, Venkatraghavan, Mohd Azharuddin etc. The Indian team was mentally weak and was not able to turn good performances into wins overseas and was mostly blow away by the opposition. Now all the experts from the past are expecting this young team who are nowhere near the capability of the teams of the past to suddenly start hammering teams overseas.

Let us look at the current Indian team. Except for Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli, the rest of the batting order is still up for debate. The bowling has been extremely inconsistent with a young brigade led by very inconsistent Ishant Sharma. The spin attack hasn’t played too much overseas (Ashwin has played a grand total of 9 tests outside Asia). The attack on Kohli and this young team by past players and media for not winning overseas seems little over the top. I agree that the fans want Indian team to win overseas and compete but again we need to give this team a chance. Almost all the players played their first games overseas in 2013-14 and gave a decent account of themselves, much better than some legends did in the past.

Sourav Ganguly started kind of a golden era of Indian cricket but again he had much better team at his disposal. Sourav and Virat are similar captains, both are aggressive in your face leaders but Virat Kohli is developing a core while Sourav already had a core available to him. The task for Sourav was to channelize and guide a group of legends to perform as a team and start winning games overseas but the task for Kohli is much tougher. He does not have legends in his team but has few good players who are still finding their feet at this level. He does not have a batting line up consisting of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. He does not have a bowling attack of Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath, and Anil Kumble at his disposal to turn this around immediately. So the media and experts need to be patient with this young team.

There is no reason to crucify this team now. They have just started to gel and perform. They just won a test series in Sri Lanka which even the best of Indian teams were not able to do for 22 years. Sourav Ganguly had a bunch of players who were experienced and were playing in the team for 10-13 years. Srinath, Kumble and Sachin were playing for a long time and except for Sehwag the rest of the team at least was 5 years behind them. So let us not hammer this team now. The ex-players should understand this better than anyone. I can agree if the media is doing this as they like to sensationalize things but the former players who have played at the highest level should know better.

I can understand the frustration of Virat Kohli and he is completely justified to feel aggrieved. The Indian teams of the past won home games like how Virat and his team is doing now and except for post Ganguly era performed worse than the current team outside home. Expecting a bunch of players who hardly have any experience to suddenly turn that horrible overseas record overnight is ridiculous. I hope that we support this young team and back them and give them some time to figure themselves out and I am sure we will see the results getting better when they travel overseas again. This is a young team with a young leader after legends exited the game. We can see how badly South Africa and Australia played in the sub-continent after their legends left the game so give these players some time and encourage them. No need to throw your own players under the bus for winning home games the same way the teams of the past won their games at home.

Ravichandran Ashwin – Overseas Blues?

Ravichandran Ashwin

Ravichandran Ashwin is India’s premier spinner and needs to be backed.

Ravichandran Ashwin has played a grand total of 5 tests overseas, 4 of them in the “Subcontinent” spin bowler’s graveyard Australia. Many greats from the subcontinent in the past have struggled to pick up wickets in Australia. Anil Kumble first visited Australia during India’s 1999/00 series when he had already played around 7 -8 years of International cricket. He picked up 5 wickets in 3 tests at an average of 90 and SR of 175.

Mastering the overseas pitches hasn’t been easy for subcontinent spinners especially Indian spinners over the last couple of decades. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh are the two major spinners who played for India during that time and both of them struggled overseas. Anil Kumble was never effective overseas until the 2000’s after almost a decade of international cricket. Harbhajan Singh except for few games here and there never mastered the art of bowling on overseas pitches. So why are we expecting Ashwin to be great before he has even played 10 tests overseas?

India isn’t in the Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Venkat and Prasanna era anymore, those days are long gone. Ravichandran Ashwin’s career is similar to how Anil Kumble or Harbhajan started their careers with team India. They were Match winners at home but ineffective overseas. Anil is an Indian legend and you don’t pick up 600+ wickets without being one but even his craziest of fans would accept that his performance in the 90’s overseas was largely underwhelming. The Indian spinners have struggled to master the right length to bowl on pitches in Australia, England and South Africa especially.

The Indian spinners are used to bowling on Indian pitches which assist them a lot. They don’t have to bowl too full on Indian pitches as bowling short of a length is more than enough as the bounce and turn on Indian pitches will take care of the rest. The reason why most of the overseas spinners struggle in India too is because they bowl too full. The Indian spinners when they go to Australia or England struggle to find the right length. They bowl the same short of the length which they bowl in India and it becomes too short on those pitches as there is no help for them. Batsmen easily pick them off of the back foot. If you look at Anil Kumble’s footage from the 90’s in Australia you will get the gist.

As a good spinner you are supposed to adapt but again you need time. Spin bowling is a difficult art, especially in conditions which isn’t helpful. You need to be able to adjust your line and length according to the pitches you play on. Also spinners mature later than the fast men. It took 10 years for Anil to find the right way to bowl overseas. Once he figured that out he started winning games for India overseas.

I am not saying give Ashwin 10 years to learn the trade but don’t discard him just after 5 tests. He can be an incredible asset for the Indian test team. He bats very well and averages almost 40 with the bat and is a good slip fielder. The Indian team needs to give him confidence and allow him to mature a little bit overseas. Unless he bowls on such wickets he is not going to learn. Anil Kumble got the chance to learn and we should not deny Ashwin of the same. We know Ashwin can pick up wickets; he just needs to know how to do it consistently overseas. It is unfair for the critics to expect magic from him when our last two major spinners had the same trouble overseas.

Ashwin has the talent and that needs backing. He has been brilliant in home conditions and now needs to translate that success to overseas games. He will do that and needs to be persisted with. I hope that the think tank play him on this tour as he would add amazing value to the team and if there is even a little help in the pitch he is bound to provide you with better attacking option.

The Harbhajan conundrum

Harbhajan Singh is India’s premier spinner, there are now two ways about it. A veteran of almost 100 tests and over 400 wickets, he is one of the best spinners in the world over the years. When Anil Kumble retired in 2008, Harbhajan was expected to take over the mantle as India’s number 1 spinner but for some reason things did not turn out as expected for the genial sardar.

Harbhajan Singh has had a very inconsistent 2-3 years in International cricket and it is hard to determine the cause for the same.

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