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.

Selectors need to look past Rohit Sharma

When Rohit Sharma walked into bat in the 2008 Commonwealth Bank Series final in Australia, India were in a bit of strife. Chasing 240 to win India were 87/3 in the 20th over. Rohit Sharma joined a set Sachin Tendulkar in the middle and played one of the most mature innings you would see a youngster play. Rohit was only 20 then and the kind of composure and confidence he showed at the crease made everyone think that here is a guy for the future.

Unfortunately for the Indian cricket team and fans Rohit was never able to consistently replicate that performance in the 5 years he has been part of the Indian set up. The 2007/08 season was probably the best time in Rohit’s career as a player. Rohit Sharma has received unanimous support from the selectors and the team management over the years but he hasn’t been able to fulfill the early promise he had shown. In the last few years he has been able to sparingly remind the Indian cricket fans what he is capable of but has lacked consistency.

Table 1:

Performances of Indian batsmen since Rohit’s debut:

stats1

The above table further emphasizes Rohit’s struggle with the bat. He features near bottom of the table just ahead of Rahul Dravid and R Jadeja. Rohit’s struggle with the bat can be attributed to his lack of temperament. His constant swipes across the line to straight deliveries and playing ridiculous shots to get out after a decent start shows that he does not have the temperament to play at this level.

Rohit needs a break from International cricket and needs to play couple of seasons in domestic cricket. There are lots of players in domestic cricket who haven’t received the kind of chances Rohit has in the past few years and they would be feeling hard done by the selectors. Robin Uthappa, Ambati Rayudu and Manoj Tiwary need long run in the ODI team and it is time we look past Rohit Sharma in the ODI squad.

Rohit is a great talent but talent alone isn’t sufficient to succeed at the highest level. The Mumbai batsman needs to work on the mental aspect of his game to be successful at the highest level. The only way he can do that is to play lot of games away from international cricket. If possible Rohit should consider playing county cricket for a season if he is offered an opportunity. Rohit can still be India’s future middle order batsman in all formats but at this point he is not the answer to our batting woes.

5 years and 86 games is a long time to judge a player and I feel Rohit has been given enough time to succeed and now is the time to reprise the same faith on other youngsters to see how they do.

West Indies series – Excellent opportunity for the youngsters

The team selection for the upcoming West Indies series shows the immense faith the selectors have on the youngsters. The team has the right balance of youth and experience and it will be interesting to see how they fare in the longer format. The series also proves an ideal ground to prepare for the future. West Indies aren’t a force anymore and this young team playing in India will gain immense experience.

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Selectors hurl a googly again

The Indian team for the ODI/T20 leg of the West Indies tour was announced last Friday. Even though the team was on the expected lines, as it has been a routine these days with our selection committee we do have one surprising selection. In the world cup it was Piyush Chawla and now it is Wriddhimaan Saha. While everyone was expecting a call up for Ambati Rayudu who also is a wicketkeeper, the selectors once again surprised one and all with their choice. There was no doubt that Parthiv was going to be the first keeper but his deputy was the one in question.

Saha probably is a very good keeper but I haven’t seen him do anything special in the domestic level or in the IPL to warrant a place ahead of Dinesh Kartik or Ambati Rayudu. Rayudu who is a decent wicketkeeper and an excellent attacking batsman in the top and middle order and would feel extremely disappointed on being left out. This again is a very controversial selection by the Indian selection committee and it will be interesting to see how Ghambir and the team management will utilize Saha on this tour. I hope that he will have a better time on this tour than what Chawla had in the world cup

The rest of the team though was on expected lines. With the absence of Dhoni and Sehwag, Ghambir has been appointed as the captain for the ODI/T20 leg. Rohit Sharma and Badrinath make the team, based on their excellent domestic season and IPL performances. Ishant Sharma makes a comeback to the team and so does Praveen kumar who missed out from the World Cup due to injury. Vinay Kumar also makes a comeback to the team on the basis of good consistent performances at the domestic level. Munaf Patel retains his position in the squad after some wonderful performances in the shorter format of the game over the past few months. The selectors have gone with three spinners, Mishra, Ashwin and Harbajan. Mishra has been rewarded for having bowled brilliantly in the IPL and for probably being the best leg spinner in the country at the moment. Ashwin and Bajji made the squad as expected.

Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan make the rest of the squad. It’s overall a good team and the selectors have played it safe this time. They probably did not want to repeat the mistake of the Zimbabwe tri-series in 2010. The selectors also warded off the temptation of picking the young Rahul Sharma, who is having a brilliant IPL this year. He probably needs more time at the domestic level. It’s nice to see that the selectors have not taken the IPL performances entirely for the team selection and have awarded consistent performers in the domestic arena too. Apart from that one controversial selection, I feel that the selectors have done a great job in picking a good squad with fine balance. I hope that the young players under Ghambir do well and emerge victorious in this campaign.

Team for the ODI and T20:

Gautam Gambhir (captain), Suresh Raina, Parthiv Patel (wk), Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, S Badrinath, Rohit Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Vinay Kumar, Yusuf Pathan, Amit Mishra, Wriddhiman Saha (wk).

West Indies Tour – Chance for the youngsters to shine

With the IPL nearing the play offs, the Indian selectors will convene in Chennai tomorrow to select the Indian team to tour West Indies next month. It is going to be an interesting selection as it seems like almost an A team would visit the Caribbean at least for the ODI-T20 leg of the tour. The IPL has thrown up some interesting names for the selection and it will all depend on how many seniors want to actually play in the ODI’s. The West Indies team is currently struggling but as seen in the series against Pakistan they cannot be written off completely. The Indian team will also not be as lucky as Pakistan since once the IPL is done, Gayle, Bravo, Taylor and Pollard will be back to bolster the WI line up. So I am guessing that the Indian team will have a good mix of youth and experience.

So let’s look at the possible candidates for the WI tour. After great performances for Mumbai Indians in IPL, it seems like finally Ambati Rayudu might fulfill the promise which was seen in him about 10 years back. He is also a wicket-keeper, so his success will mean that we will have a capable understudy to Dhoni on tours. The other player who might get a look in is Subramaniam Badrinath, who has looked in incredible touch for CSK in this IPL and has also had an impressive domestic season prior to that. Rohit Sharma might also get a call back as he has been in impressive form in the IPL. Apart from these three there are other contenders in batting such as Rahane, Pujara (Provided he is fit) and Murali Vijay.

If Dhoni decides to skip the ODI’s, Ghambir might captain the team to WI for the ODI leg. With very good chance of senior players giving the ODI a skip, this tour will provide excellent chance for young Indian batsmen to prove themselves at international level. The bowling line up though will provide much interesting selection. With Ashish Nehra missing out due to Injury, we will see Praveen Kumar making a comeback to the national side. Ishant Sharma who bowled brilliantly for his IPL side Deccan Chargers will also be in the reckoning. It was heartening to see Ishant getting his pace and accuracy back. Munaf Patel who has been consistent and accurate for the past few months will for sure make the side.

Varun Aaron, the new pace sensation might be the wild card but I don’t think the selectors will pick him ahead of Vinay Kumar and Umesh Yadav. Zaheer I am sure will be rested for the ODI and T20. The spinning combination will be an interesting one. With lots of them doing extremely well in the IPL, it will be a tough pick for the selectors. Ravichandran Ashwin will for sure make the squad and if the selectors decide to rest Bajji for the ODI’s we might see Pragyan Ojha making the cut too. Rahul Sharma who has had a dream IPL with his consistent leg-breaks will also be in the radar for the selectors. Amit Mishra and Iqbal Abdulla who have been very economical in the IPL will also be in the discussion. I am thinking that Amit Mishra might anyways make it to the test team but they might want to try Rahul Sharma in the ODI’s to see how he does at the international level. Piyush Chawla though would be missing out as he had a bad World Cup followed by an equally awful IPL.

The seniors are for sure are expected to be back for the test series and there might not be many surprises in the test squad. With Sehwag missing Vijay might join Ghambir at the top of the order followed by Dravid, Sachin and Laxman. The number 6 spot again will be in the discussion and I hope that they give another chance to the young Pujara. Raina might probably make the squad too unless the selectors want to include another youngster in his spot. The bowling for sure will feature Zaheer, Sreesanth and probably Ishant as the three speedsters and Bajji might be joined by Mishra in the spin department. All in all this is going to be an interesting selection and I hope that some youngsters get a look in at least in the shorter format.

The WI tour will be a potential banana skin tour for the Indians as they are expected to win it comfortably. With the return of the stars WI is not going to be pushovers in either format and the Indians need to play extremely well to win the series convincingly. The number 1 test team needs to win all the three games to avoid losing any points and the ODI team needs to win the series pretty convincingly to not drop down the ODI rankings. So this will surely be in the mind of the selectors when picking the players for the tour. Duncan Fletcher is expected to join the selection meeting tomorrow in Chennai and I don’t think he will have too much of an input as this is expected to be just an introduction exercise for the new Indian coach.

Selectors Need to Experiment a Bit

Jadeja was the best bowler on view for the Indians in the first ODI against South Africa

Phew! What a game. South Africa almost pulled off a miracle yesterday against India in the first ODI between the two sides in this three match series. When SA was 182/7 requiring more than 7 an over, I thought to myself even our bowlers couldn’t mess this up, but how wrong I was. The Indian bowling as usual melted under pressure in the final overs and allowed No. 10 and 11 to get the visitors to within 1 run of securing a brilliant victory.

To be frank when you have Ravindra Jadeja (5th bowler) as your best bowler on the day then you have serious issues. The Indian selectors seem to be averse to doing any sort of experimentation with the squad at the moment. The bowling selections have been monotonous for the past year or so. It has been Nehra, Zaheer, Praveen, Ishant and Sreesanth doing merry-go-round for the bowling spots. Tyagi received one chance and there has been no other new bowler for the Indians.

Zaheer seems to be the only bowler who is remotely close to being a decent ODI bowler and the rest of them seem ordinary. I would give a few more chances to Praveen Kumar but Sreesanth, Ishant and Nehra need to stay away from the team for some time. The Indian selectors need to be bold with the selections and look ahead to the World Cup. With the current bowling line up India will get hammered in the World Cup which is supposed to take place on these batting paradises in the sub continent.

India needs to give a decent run to Tyagi, Mithun, Irfan and Sangwan etc. to see how they do in this format. I am sure they can’t do worse than the current crop. If not for few lucky decisions going India’s way and a fantastic over by Praveen under pressure India would have lost the match easily.

I hope the selectors are listening and I hope they experiment a little bit with the bowling combinations in the future series.