The BCCI’s announcement of the 15-member India team for the forthcoming cricket World Cup in England and Wales has received a mixed reaction. The ones who gave it a thumbs-up were people who had already formed their opinion even before the selection. The common thread amongst them was that 90 per cent of the team had already established themselves and the question was to fill two insignificant spots, that too, if the need arose.
The criticism from most of the others was for the non-inclusion of Rishabh Pant and Ambati Rayudu in the squad.
Selecting an international side, one understands, can never satisfy the expectations and fancy of everyone, but one expects a good thought process and explanation for each individual picked.
Planning for the World Cup has been seriously on the drawing board since the past two years.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India has done well to ensure that every prospective Indian cricketer got an opportunity and chance to showcase their talent.
There were tours, not just for the Indian team, but also for the India ‘A’ team that comprised of players, who had missed the boat in getting into the Indian side.
The way both these teams were performing both in India, as well as overseas, it looked like India could field two equally strong sides to play in the showpiece event.
The saying “too many cooks spoil the broth”, is how one can see the way Indian cricket took a turn. The Indian selectors instead of being well in control seemed to look confused and bewildered. India was bursting with raw talent alongside with the established ones, identifying and selecting players became a big chore.
A cricketer’s success in the popular Indian Premier League (IPL), tournament became a quicker way to play for India and so did the U-19 performances of the players. The old ritual of players being selected on account of consistent performance at the domestic level before being elevated to the higher echelons of Indian cricket has become irrelevant.
The rich talent of Indian cricketers that had emerged were systematically decimated. Rather than outlining a well-structured plan for selecting young and established players, random opportunities were given to most of them, with a one point agenda and that was to either perform or perish.
India, in the course of two years or more had so many players playing for the side, some who failed were shown the door and others who did at times prove their worth, lost form and were thereafter replaced by another candidate.
This chopping and changing finally resulted in India having to still find a solid middle order batsman for the number 4 and 5 spot for the World Cup.
In England, the heavy weather and cloud cover can make batting difficult while facing the new ball. India experienced that during the Test series last year and a few early wickets was all it took to crush them.
India’s strength is their bowling but it is also their Achilles’ heel as all the top bowlers have not shown the ability to bat when required.
India do not have the luxury to include all their top performing bowlers as playing Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Md Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar would leave them in a precarious position once they are 6 wickets down. This, therefore, will require India to play either Vijay Shankar or Ravindra Jadeja depending on the conditions prevalent before the game. Vijay Shankar at 4 and Kedar Jadhav at 6, may look adequate on paper, but they to do not instil the confidence in one, to lead India to a win against a top level attack.
M.S. Dhoni, on the other hand, has become a very important ingredient of the team. Apart from his input and support to Virat Kohli, he may not be at his best as a batsman, but he is the only player amongst the middle and tail-enders, who has the maturity to understand the situation.
Hardik Pandya and Jadeja have the ability to play extraordinarily exciting and flamboyant cavalier innings, but expecting them to change their approach when the situation requires, could be a futile task.
M.S.K. Prasad the chairman of the selection committee made a few puzzling statements during the press conference. He diminished Pant’s wicket-keeping by saying that Dinesh Kartik was far superior in that department and that Pant is still young and has years to go. This is a bizarre statement, as it always burns me internally, when people remark on not selecting a candidate for a job or a cricketer because of his age.
By the next World Cup, Rishabh Pant may have 4 other young contenders for a wicketkeepers spot. Will this selection committee’s decision of his future prevail then?
How can the likes of Pant, Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal and many other young cricketers flourish if they are not given the opportunity and experience when most required? India, apart from their pace bowlers, are depending a lot on their two wrist spinners in Kuldeep Yadav and Chahal. Watching Kuldeep bowl recently in the IPL, one is worried whether he will be able to deliver results in the World Cup in England.
International batsmen and coaches seem to have analysed him well. They have realised that he does not have the nip off the wicket that Rashid Khan or a Harbhajan Singh possess. Batsmen have now started playing him off the back foot rather than trying to attack him off the front foot or by using their feet. This is precisely why he is struggling to get wickets in the IPL this season.
India, did look at one stage to be clear favourites to win the Cup, but with the young and new crop of cricketers emerging from the West Indies, England, South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Pakistan, the field is wide open. To pinpoint the likely winner of the 2019 World Cup is a very difficult task.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer)