Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Final Fifteen

The Indian team for the 2007 World Cup has been selected. Call them the Men in Blue, Guru Greg's boys, Team India or any cliche, everyone seems to have an opinion about it. The selection has been dissected, analysed and criticised a million times on every news channel in the past week and as expected, it left almost everyone content but not elated. I am going to try and justify or refute the selection of the fifteen.

I believe Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar and Yuvraj were assured of their place before the Sri Lanka Series. While Yuvraj may have been on the comeback trail after a serious injury, his place could never have been in doubt as he was the best ODI batsman for India before the injury and never really suffered from lack of form. Besides, his fielding and slow bowling were always going to work in his favour. Robin Uthappa had a terrific domestic season. He scored 854 runs in 7 games at 65.69 runs an innings at a breakneck pace of 81.56 runs per 100 balls in what has essentially been a bowlers' Ranji Trophy. He had a dream debut for India but was dropped subsequently, but he came back with a bucaneering 70 off 41 balls to edge Gautam Gambhir out of the reckoning.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik have given the selectors a happy headache on the power of their performances as well as their work ethic. While the latter hasn't shone at the International stage, he has shown immense guts, intelligence & fielding prowess to merit a place in the side. With Dravid leading the side and being 34 years of age he shouldn't be expected to keep wickets if Dhoni gets injured.

Agarkar and Harbhajan have been the most consistent bowlers for India in the past 18 months, with the former having taken 66 wickets in 45 ODIs in that period & the latter playing the holding role in the middle overs so well that he has the 4th best economy rate in International Cricket since 2006. The fact that these two run fast and have strong arms also works in their favour. Zaheer Khan has made a terrific comeback into the side and his recent exploits would have been much better chronicled had it not been for our obsession with batsmen. Munaf Patel has bowled well whenever he has been fit and his ability to extract bounce and make the ball nip off the surface while maintaining a tight line is priceless. He may be a walking wicket and a big liability in the field but Pathan's horror spell with the ball meant Munaf was a shoo-in for the squad once he proved his fitness in the firs two ODIs. He went one better, by picking up 6 wickets in those two games.

Virender Sehwag has been devastating at the top of the order but has failed to kick on to make big scores like he so often has in the test arena. A horror run of form coupled with questions regarding his fitness and commitment to the side meant he was treading on thin ice. Fortunately for him he had a very good ODI series in the Caribbean last year where he had scores of 95 and 97 and an average of 47.40. He is an intelligent bowler and his off-breaks could well be useful if the tracks are slow.

Pathan at his best provides India the option of going in with five bowlers. He is definitely not the all-rounder all of India craves for but at his best he can give you two or three top order wickets and quick runs down the order. One feels he has been selected on the basis of the potential he has and because he is the best bat among the bowlers. Like Agarkar and Harbhajan, he too is quick in the outfield and has a strong arm.

That leaves us with two slots. These were filled by Kumble and Sreesanth, the old warhorse and the young tyro. The former has been one of the most lion-hearted cricketers I have seen play for India while the latter is a bundle of energy.

I am surprised by the unanimous acceptance of Kumble's place in the squad, some have even gone so far as to say he might be a better option than Harbhajan. I am not quite sure where they're coming from, considering Kumble hasn't turned in a single performance in the past few years that would make you sit up and take notice. He has taken 46 wickets at 45.26 in his last 50 matches. Even his economy rate has been bad: He has conceded 4.83 runs an over as compared to his career economy rate of 4.31. His batting hasn't even gone downhill, it's in free fall and he is worse than VVS Laxman when it comes to fielding and running between the wickets. By contrast, Ramesh Powar has the 8th best average of all ODI bowlers since 2006. He has taken 24 wickets at 25.45 in 16 games during this period and is the ideal foil for Harbhajan as he batsmen will look to attack him because of Harbhajan's frugal bowling. This plays right into his hands as he gives the ball a lot of air and gets it to dip on the batsmen. People need to look beyond his portly stature to realise he is quite swift in the outfield and does have a decent arm. I would have gambled on him rather than pick Kumble, but the selectors decided to go with experience and I have a feeling the captain was more comfortable having him in the side.

Sreesanth has been terrific in the test arena. His wrist position at the time of release and seam position have come in for a lot of praise from all quarters but he seems unable to adjust his length in the One-Day game and has gone for over 6 an over in 11 of his 27 ODIs. India had gone in with 4 seamers for the World Cup in South Africa and it's baffling as to why they have picked 5 for this one. It might be due to Munaf's fitness and Pathan's loss of form with ball, but I believe it's a very defensive attitude.

There were three other names which were discussed by the Indian fans.

VVS Laxman was the most popular of them with people questioning the need for 4 openers in the side. I don't think we have 4 openers who can only bat at the top of the order, in fact Sehwag, Ganguly and Tendulkar started off as middle order batsmen and can easily score quickly in the middle overs. Laxman averages just over 20 in 38 innings while chasing and even while batting first he doesn't do well against sides other than Australia. He can't bat anywhere except number 3 and is a major liability in the field. I don't see any of his supporters substantiate their arguments with facts.

Suresh Raina was supposed to be the young Indian hope just 12 months ago. Unfortunately he has suffered from the second season syndrome and his batting was too indifferent for his fielding to make up for. But he has age on his side and he should be one of the certainties in four years time.

Mohammad Kaif's is a very peculiar case. He had a very good tour of the Caribbean last year and has always done well when pushed up the order. He averages 47 at number 3 and could easily anchor the innings in case one of the batsmen got injured. His fielding is world class and the side needs it desperately: He could well be the official substitute fielder of the side in the Caribbean. But this team management seemed to back Raina ahead of him every time they had to choose between the two. As a result, a prospective future captain has been left in the wilderness wondering if he will ever get the respect he so richly deserves.

All in all, it's a side picked with the focus on experience over youth every time there has been a toss-up between the two, but it's a situation forced up on the selectors thanks to India's poor run of form in the last season. Hopefully the Final Fifteen of 2007 will join the family of the Fabulous Fourteen of 1983.

1 comment:

  1. Kumble's selection defies logic given by selectors earlier. Powar is surely deserved a place. If not at Kumble's expense then at Sreeshant's expense.
    I am not happy with Harbhajan's bowling, He needs to be a wicket taking option. there are instances of India letting oppsition off the hook in the middle over.
    Taking Utappa is also a gamble, but that gamble had to be taken. We are dumping Raina and Kaif for their poor perfomances in SA but Uttappa has never played in such situations.

    My only change in the team would have been to fit Powar some how. But I am sure "How" would have been the biggest debate selecors would have had.