No surprises…

Pleasant or otherwise. India’s World Cup squad:

Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, Ashish Nehra, Praveen Kumar, Piyush Chawla and Ravichandran Ashwin.

#Questions on the fitness of Sachin, Gautam and Viru

#Questions on the form of Yuvraj and Nehra

#A question about whether we need three spinners

#A question about whether 6 batsmen plus Yusuf is enough, sans cover in case of injuries.

Rohit misses out thanks to his own inability to seize opportunities, and comes as a wake up call for a talented but wayward player who most needs a kick in the butt. Nice to see Ashwin in the squad, but the key is whether, with India’s 4 bowler formula and propensity to pick Bajji almost as reflex, he will get a chance to play.

As a friend points out in comments, this makes for possibly the slowest-moving fielding side in the competition, in a format where keeping runs down in the middle overs is crucial.

Thoughts?

The return of Rajasthan

Back in the day when Lalit Modi was ruling not just the Rajasthan Cricket Association but was ‘Super Chief Minister’ for the whole state, one of his initiatives was to develop local cricket talent in the state.

True to his style, it was not local talent he relied on, but the more high profile services of Greg Chappell, who was invited to set up an academy in Jaipur designed to find, train and hone talented young cricketers from the region. As this story I did at the time should indicate, Chappell brought his trademark theories to the job — but apparently forgot that in the final analysis it is about human beings not chalkboard theories, about empathy not impatience…

Those thoughts occurred while reading Aakash Chopra’s quick take on why Rajasthan went from the absolute bottom to the very top of the domestic table. Relevant clip:

The emergence of Chahar and Menaria isn’t a mere coincidence either. Chahar was ignored by Greg Chappell and it was Sinha who brought him back into the fold. Menaria’s season was as good as over after his groin injury, but RCA didn’t leave any stone unturned to get him up and running in double-quick time.

From the Indian Express, this on the RCA’s talent director Tarak Sinha:

It was Sinha who had spotted Chahar in the district of Hanumangad during the RCA’s state-wide ‘talent search programme.’ “Here was an extremely talented fast bowler who almost ended up being wasted. We just had to iron out a few flaws after which he was a complete product,” explains Sinha.

Aakash’s piece is a mini primer on how a state association serious about developing the game can — should — function.

Rajasthan had identified both its personnel and their roles way back in August while most teams were not even thinking about the season yet. You would be surprised that the squad which defeated Vadodara in the Ranji finals is almost identical to the one which played in the Buchi Babu tournament in August. This shows consistency in the selection process which not only provides continuity but also stability. Due credit should be given to president C P Joshi, who allowed things to run its course and never interfered.

Making up the numbers

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.