CW2015 – India needs to decide on the team combination soon

The Indian team hasn’t had a great start to the ODI Tri-Series. After losing a hard fought game to Australia in the opener, they have been hammered by England in the second game. While the first game was marred by poor lower order batting, the second game had a complete batting failure.

With the World cup just a month away India seem to be having a boat load of issues with the team combination. Let us look at the problem areas for the team ahead of the marquee tournament.

The Openers:

India played 2 different combinations in the first two games and Shikhar Dhawan has struggled to score in both those games. After an underwhelming test series with the bat Dhawan seems to be struggling to put bat to ball in his favorite format of the game. It seems like India needs to take the harsh decision and give the Rohit/Rahane combination a chance in the remaining games. Rohit scored a hundred in the first game and Rahane looked good in the second before throwing his wicket away to a poor shot. The opening combination is the most important thing in Australia/New Zealand and it can make or break a team. India need to decide on what combination they are planning to field in the world cup and play that duo in the upcoming games in the tri-series and in the warm up games leading to the world cup.

 The Middle Order:

India has experimented quite a lot in this area as well. Virat Kohli who was India’s permanent fixture at number 3 has been pushed to number 4 for some strange reason. Ambati Rayudu was used at number 3 at the Gabba. Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni complete the Indian middle order. Virat Kohli should bat at 3 in all games, as he is India’s best ODI player. Suresh Raina will bat at 5 followed by MS Dhoni at 6. So that leaves Ambati Rayudu at number 4. The positions of Raina and Rayudu can be changed based on the team situation but India ideally should play Kohli at 3 and Rayudu at 4. India does not have too much room for experimentation in this regard as they haven’t picked another middle order batsman. Rahane who can double as a middle order batsman may have to open since Dhawan hasn’t been scoring any runs.

The All-rounders:

This is a very interesting spot for the Indian team. India has picked potentially 4 all-rounders. 3 of them are spin bowling all-rounders and one a medium pace all-rounder. It will be interesting to see which combination India will play at the world cup. Stuart Binny did a decent job in the game at Gabba scoring 44 runs with the bat and picking up the only wicket to fall. Once Ravi Jadeja is fit, I don’t think India will be playing Akshar Patel in the X1. The tussle for the one spin all-rounder will be between Jadeja and Ashwin. India might play both of them in venues which might have some help for the spinners and play one of them in the combination of Binny in the other venues. Jadeja has been Dhoni’s go to man in ODI’s, so it will be fair to assume that he will be India’s first choice spinner in the world cup.

The Bowling:

This will be the most talked about combination for India ahead of the world cup. Looking at the squad selected for the world cup, it is pretty hard to imagine how India is going to take 10 wickets in the game. The bowlers as seen in the test matches don’t have any control over the scoring with the new ball, which is going to be crucial in the world cup. Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami haven’t been the most economical bowlers for India and haven’t been that effective with the new ball. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has struggled in Australia and hasn’t been able to pick up too many wickets. This leaves just Ishant who hasn’t played in the on-going tri-series due to an injury and might not take part in the rest of the series as well. This will mean that India will struggle to find the right bowling combination for the world cup. Ideally India should play Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant and Shami/Umesh. India cannot play both Shami and Umesh in the X1. Even though Ishant and Bhuvneshwar might not get you too many wickets, they can at least give you some much needed control with the new ball building up some pressure. Shami is good with the old ball which might help Dhoni to keep him for the middle and later overs.

So all in all it does look like a very tall order for the Indians to defend the world cup in Australia and New Zealand. The Indian bowling has relied a lot on spinners over the last year or so but in Australia/New Zealand they wouldn’t be that effective. India did not pick a wrist spinner in their squad which might work against them in the world cup. The batting too looks unsettled and with players looking out of form. Things do not look great for Dhoni and Fletcher ahead of the world cup at this point. India needs to decide on their best X1 in the upcoming couple of games as they don’t have too much room to experiment anyways with the World Cup Squad. The non-selection of an additional middle order bat and an additional pacer might work against the team in the world cup.

Below is my X1 for the world cup. The below X1 is the best combination I feel India can put up from the squad selected for the world cup.

India X1 (WC): Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli (VC), Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (C, WKT), Stuart Binny, Ravi Ashwin/Ravi Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami

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.

Problems galore for team India

Indian bowling has always been under the scanner. Every premier tournament starts with same concerns for India and this time is no different. In the 2011 World Cup India’s bowling was brilliantly led by Zaheer Khan. He was not only economical but also ended up as the highest wicket taker of the tournament. Zaheer also received great support from Nehra and Munaf in the crucial games.

The biggest issue for Indian in the ongoing T20 World Cup is the lack of form Zaheer has displayed. He has struggled with the new ball and his death bowling has been awful. The important thing to note is that Zaheer has never been a great T20 bowler. He has always struggled even in the IPL to control the flow of runs. The other two pacers have struggled too. Irfan Pathan has gone for runs and so has Balaji. The Afghanistan match was an eye opener where the pace bowlers were largely ineffective with the new ball.

So India currently just relies on Ravichandran Ashwin and the part-time spin of Yuvraj Singh to put the brakes on the scoring. This is surely not an ideal scenario and for sure not a strategy for a team which is considered as one of the favorites to win it all. India does have Dinda in the dugout who probably could get a look in. Even though Dinda hasn’t played too many international games he seems to be someone suited for the shorter formats. He has a decent international record in the few games he has played and his IPL record is impressive. So India should look to play him in the game against England and probably rest Zaheer for a game? This is something which the think tank needs to weigh in before the super 8’s start.

The selectors have ignored Praveen who would have been handful in Sri Lankan conditions and also someone like Munaf Patel would have been an asset. The lack of Yorkers in the bowling armory of the Indian pacers is disappointing. India has more often than not gone at 10-11 runs an over against good sides in the death overs.

The other major issue for the Indian team has been their openers. Sehwag and Gambhir have struggled to put up decent partnership and in the current scenario look completely out of touch. Gambhir especially has been struggling for form and his confidence seems to be really low at the moment. India probably should try and test out Manoj Tiwary in the middle order and possibly move Kohli to open with Sehwag for the game against England to see how he goes. I would have thought the think tank doing something like that for the warm up games but that was not to be. India have won their easy first game and have booked their spot in the Super 8’s and will have to seriously think about their options.

The bowling surely needs to improve and the batsmen need to find form. In the previous two editions India failed to win a single game in the second stage of the world T20 and on the current evidence it seems like this year might be no different.

Year in Review: The year of the world cup

The year has come to an end and it’s time to look back at a great year for the Indian cricket fans around the world. This has been the year of the world cup. Let’s look back at the year, the ups the downs and obviously the world cup.

The World cup

The World Cup returned to the subcontinent after 15 years and every Indian fan was hoping to see MS Dhoni lifting the coveted trophy. India did have a tough group and did come through reasonably well with just one loss. The quarter-final game against Australia was fantastic and Yuvraj Singh (Man of the tournament) played a blinder along with Suresh Raina to get India home. The semi-finals against arch rivals Pakistan was an emotionally charged one but a great knock by Sachin and some disciplined bowling effort got India through that.

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India should look to build a team for the future

Watching the Indian team during the 90’s was extremely frustrating. The team which functioned like a well-oiled machine at home played like a bunch of novices when they toured abroad. The batting struggled and the bowling lacked any sort of bite. The current series in England brings back the bad memories. It is sad because since the turn of the century, it seemed as though India had left the ghost of the 90’s behind.

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Captain Marvelous!!

On 2nd April 2011, MS Dhoni did which no other captain after Kapil in 1983 was able to achieve. He won the World Cup for India. A wait of 28 years finally ended and the nation rejoiced. The memory of Dhoni smashing Kulasekara over the long on fence will be forever etched in the minds of the Indian cricket fans. Such is the power of this victory and Dhoni becomes a legend in the Indian cricketing history. The ice cool captain of India stood up to be counted when it absolutely mattered and with the help of Ghambir sealed the most memorable victory for the team India.

When I watched my first game in 1991, I had no clue about the Indian cricket. After watching just few games, I was glued on to the sport forever. I began by knowing about the game better, the history of the sport, the legends of Indian cricket everything I needed to know about the game. I even watched a video called “The History of Indian cricket- 1933-1985”, which taught me a lot about Indian cricket. I learnt that India had won the 1983 world cup. I saw the clippings like thousands of times. I saw the 1983 stars speak about that moment so many times on television. The picture of Kapil lifting the coveted trophy in 1983 is something every cricket fan cherishes even today. That as everyone knows kicked off the cricketing legacy of team India. That win inspired a young Sachin Tendulkar to grow in to a legend that he is today.

As a cricket fan, I always dreamt about watching an Indian team win a world cup again. A dream which I am sure is shared by every cricket fan in India. The dream was turned into a reality when Mahindra Singh Dhoni lifted the trophy on the 2nd of April in Mumbai. It was surely a proud moment for me. I felt extremely blessed to have watched the winning moment, a moment which I always wanted to be a part of. As a cricket fan I had two major wishes, one was to watch my icon Sachin Tendulkar score a hundred live (Which I did on the 4th day of India Vs Pak in Chennai, I was there on the ground) and the second was to watch India win a world cup. I am extremely happy that both those wishes have been granted.

MSD probably is the most unassuming leader of the Indian cricket team ever, the icy cool nature of the man is being appreciated by cricketing pundits across the globe. Dhoni led the team in a brilliant fashion in this cup and marshaled his resources with extreme finesse. He now leads the best team in the world in Test cricket, has won T20 world cup as captain and now adds the World Cup to his already impressive resume. As Imran Khan said in a recent interview, he is now the best captain in world cricket and he deserves all the accolades he is receiving right now. In spite of such a great win, we still see him humble and down to earth which shows the humility of the man. To be grounded after achieving such stupendous success speaks volumes about his nature.

In all this celebration, as the captain himself pointed out, we should not forget the contributions of Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid. A various stages these there legends were responsible in setting up the team to what it is at the moment. Ganguly took over the reins of the team when the entire cricketing world was in turmoil with the match fixing saga. His contribution along with John Wright cannot be forgotten by any Indian cricket fan. He instilled the fighting spirit, self belief in this team which was lacking in the teams of the 90’s. Dhoni though if he continues in the vein might become the best Indian captain of all time. I congratulate the team on a brilliant win and I hope that they don’t stop at this and achieve much more in the coming years. With Captain Marvelous leading us from the front, I think there is more to celebrate in the coming years.

World Cup 2011 – Renewal of the rivalry

Finally the fans have gotten what they wished for, an India-Pakistan game. Just two days to go for the mother of all games and the hype surrounding the same is unbelievable. An India-Pakistan encounter is a very rare occurrence these days, so every game carries huge expectations among the fans of both the countries. The politicians, the movie stars, the business tycoons all will be in attendance at Mohali on 30th of March for this mouthwatering contest.

The teams though would not want to fall into this hype. They would want to keep this game simple and concentrate on their performance on the field. They would want to stay away from all the commotion which surrounds this semi-final game. I pity New Zealand and Srilanka as they have hardly got any attention ahead of their semi-final game tomorrow. So let’s take a look as to how the two teams stack up for the game on Wednesday. Both India and Pakistan have had their ups and downs during this world cup. Pakistan though contrary to the pre-tournament predictions has had a wonderful world cup. Except for the one slip up against New Zealand, they have done exceedingly well. Their bowling has clicked almost in every game and their batting has contributed enough to take them through.

Their win against West Indies in the quarters shows how well they have gelled as a team this tournament after all the off field issues they had prior to the same. Gul and Afridi have been brilliant and the addition of Misbah and Younis in the middle order has given the solidity the team was lacking over the last few months. So the Pakistani team would be quietly confident regarding their chances in the Wednesday’s semi-final game. The batting will be under the scanner and they would know that their bowlers cannot have an off day.

The Indian team on the other hand has had a mixed tournament. Their bowling and fielding has struggled and the batting has been inconsistent during the course of the tournament. The bowlers have failed to defend 300 twice in this tournament and the batsmen have collapsed from great position twice. The Indian bowling has heavily relied on Zaheer Khan who has been brilliant in this world cup. He has been the second highest wicket taker in the world cup and along with Harbajan Singh has been India’s consistent performer. Ravichandran Ashwin’s inclusion though has given India a definite edge over the past couple of games.

The Indian top order has been in great form and Raina’s inclusion ahead of Yusuf has given the team the necessary depth in batting. India would take a lot of heart from their performance against the Australians where their bowling and fielding was top notch. The Indian fielders put on an incredible performance to restrict Australia to an achievable total. The bowling was also pretty consistent and it was probably their best performance on the field in the entire tournament. That shows that probably the Indian team is peaking at the right moment for an important tournament like this. The Indian batting too showed that they have the necessary depth and quality to chase down a difficult total on a tough wicket.

Sachin, Ghambir, Yuvi and Kohli all looked in excellent touch. Sehwag coming back from an injury did not look that comfortable against the Aussies but knowing him, he will be very much ready for a contest as big as this. Raina who was included at the last minute showed amazing maturity to play a great short innings under pressure to guide India to victory in the quarterfinals. The win against the Aussies for sure would have been a great confidence booster for Dhoni’s men. On paper though you would say that the Indian team should win 9 times out of 10 but strength or form counts for nothing in India-Pakistan encounters. It’s the performance on the day which matters.

Indian management’s decision to not allow the players to interact with the media is a masterstroke as this will keep them focused on the game. It’s unfortunate that the Indian government is trying to make this a political game by inviting the Pakistani prime minister. This puts a lot of pressure on the players in the middle. I don’t know when the politicians will realize that this is just a game of cricket and politics has no place in sports. The pressure on the players is enormous as it is and they would appreciate a little respite.

Just couple of days to go for the D-day and fans from both the countries would want their team to win this game. I don’t even think anybody is worried about the finals as of yet as this game is as good as the final for the people of both these countries. I just hope that this game lives up to its billing and produces a wonderful contest. C’mon India!!!