So just when I was thinking the ideal Monday morning post would be to pick my preferred Indian squad for WC2011, Harsha Bhogle went and did it. And on Yahoo, yet.
It’s hard to quarrel with this team — most members pick themselves, even despite the injuries they are carrying. Typically, such a statement would be an indictment of the younger lot; it would be a fair call to say none of them has really pushed the seniors hard enough. Only, I am not so sure that is the case — the fact that the team picks itself so easily, and that we are unable to even consider adequate alternatives/possibles to the injured Sehwag, Gambhir and even Tendulkar, or to the off form Yuvraj Singh, is even more an indictment of the national selectors, who in the year leading up to the World Cup have preferred largely to stay with known names, and shied away from trying out alternate options against quality opposition. So we really don’t know if Robin Uthappa is a viable option; or a Manish Pandey for that matter; we know we need a bowling all-rounder, but we never thought to try out an Irfan Pathan, say, to see just how far along he is on the road to redemption. I could go on with examples, but you get the idea.
To my way of thinking, the build up to a world-level competition has to run on two parallel tracks: the first being to shepherd the top players along, balancing the need to keep them in peak fitness with the need to ensure that in terms of playing form they stay on the boil. This is a matter of judiciously fielding them so they can continue to fine tune their match play, while scheduling enough breaks/downtime so they can attend to physical niggles and work on little technical deficiencies they spot in the midst of match play. The parallel exercise is to identify alternatives for the key slots, to rotate them into the playing XI as often as possible so the selectors get a feel for how they are coming along, the coach has a first hand look at their capabilities, and the team also gets a degree of comfort with their presence in the dressing room.
Absent such planning, we are reduced to a situation where we say oh, yeah, Yuvraj has looked well below par lately, but you know, somewhere back in the mists of time he was a match winner for us and who knows, he could just maybe strike form during the Cup (“He is a big match player”, as commentators would put it). Or we go, yeah, well, Rohit hasn’t really sealed a place for himself yet, looks good out in the middle but throws it away more often than not but hey, he is still a great talent and anyway, what have you got to replace him? Substitute Yuvraj/Rohit with Ashish Nehra, and the same holds true; it is similarly not the fault of alternate talent, but of our unwillingness to look further afield, that we continue to talk up Ravindra Jadeja as our ‘all-rounder’.
Anyway, that ship has sailed; we’ve spent all of last year pretty much rotating through the same names except on some little-account tour like Zimbabwe, about which no one cared anyway. So bottom-line, the team Harsha picked is likely the team the selectors will pick later today; from that point on, captain and coach will just have to make the best of it.
I’m curious, though. If you were selecting, and you weren’t dependent on “proven form”, but were willing to be imaginative, to punt on ability rather than on whether the selectors had given young talent a chance or no, which names outside of the usual would you consider for the Cup squad, and why?
PS: By the way, I had originally intended to do a post on PowerPlays — I believe this World Cup will be decided by how well a team performs, with bat and ball, in the middle overs, and intelligent use of power plays is crucial to that. But on balance, that post can wait — today is about the team selection; will get back to other stuff tomorrow.