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.


30 thoughts on “Making up the numbers

  1. Not that I have much to argue against Harsha’s team, but was it a coincidence that Harsha, as a brand ambassador of Castrol, used the Castrol “performance” index?

  2. i don’t think SRT should be in the middle order, he is the best opener in odi history and why would you ever want to change his position in the side, and unlike sehwag when he gets a start he actually more often than not makes it count so the message to SRT is to go out there and bat for atleast 40 odd overs and if he does that i’am sure india will be in a good position. I think 3 spinners is more of a luxury and can’t believe there is no sree, he is by far the best fast bowler in the country after zaheer, and if zaheer is not in form i don’t know which bowler in the current line up will get us wickets with the new ball.

  3. The team has been announced-no Rohit Sharma,no Sreesanth,no spare WK,maybe they should rest MSD and ZAK for the rest of the SA tour.For the pacers they have gone for Zak,PK,Nehra and Munaf.2 Lefties and 2 righties.

  4. Surprising to read that Parthiv is the choice as SRT’s replacement,I guess then MSD might be carrying a niggle to add to VS and GG in the injured list.VS has expressed a wish to bat in the middle-so why not that option?My take on the tearaway fast bowler stems from two thoughts-a)ICC is insisting on some grass and bounce b)MSD’s penchant for losing tosses- a couple of quick wickets right at the top will do no harm to our cause.In the absence of good pace bowlers we need to have two good attacking spinners maybe Ashwin and Ojha backed by Yuvraj/VS/Raina/YPathan.
    ZAK is no certainity for the whole tournament- so we will end up looking at Munaf,Nehra,Sreesanth or PK to make up.While PK looks ordinary he has a knack of picking wickets(But not tearing through a side)
    @MohanK-MSD will definitely have one choice of his own either a Jadeja or a RP Singh,since RP is not in the reckoning,he might go with Jadeja

  5. I think if Aswin gets selected then Dinesh Kartik Misses out. Only one is allowed in Chairman of selector/s discretionery quota.

    Sad thing is Aswin should be in the side on merit ahead of HS Plaha 🙂

  6. What ever happened to RP Singh ? Also, it’s a pity that IPathan was not tried out, instead RJadeja is our all-rounder with problems in his batting and bowling.

  7. Along the lines of reputation, Why is Sehwag a guarantee as one of the openers? Bring him to the middle order. Open with SRT and GG. Have Kohli at 3 and YS/VS at 4/5. VS will still have one PP to cause mayhem with. Kohli has shown in the last year that he can play the long innings and he typically takes a bit to get going, so i think he will be a good fit at 3. Raina/MSD at 6/7.

    • Funny thing is, I actually like GG and VS to open with Kohli at 3 and SRT at 4. The great man insists on opening, but from a team point of view, I’d love him controlling the middle — anyway, he in recent times seems more intent on moving the ball around the park than in playing too many of the big shots, that makes him optimal for the middle order, where he can control and, if he plays through, can become devastating at the death. With Kohli above him and Raina below him, SRT has the company of two players who are good at working the ball around and running, opening up opportunities and playing the big shots when the field moves around.

      • My thoughts too, SRT at 4 would be superb, however considering sachin’s fondness for opening and his last world cup (mostly) ..selectors wont deny his wishes..

      • Ah, you just opened a can of worms. Dada and Guru Greg tried it in ‘their’ respective WC campaigns – one finally relented, another held on and bit the dust.

        Yours seems the right way. But SRT’s mind is set on opening, come what may and there are enough people in the “best batsman should feel free to bat whereever he wants” brigade in the public space anyway…

        • These days, both Sehwag and Ganbhir “move the ball around the park” too although every now and then, just to mess with the bowlers head, these two might shimmy down the track or play and upper-cut to third-man. I feel Sehwag finds the defensive field placings in ODIs to be too restrictive and constraining, while Gambhir is… Gambhir! So given this, I am not sure I agree with the logic of moving SRT to #4. It was a daft idea with Guru Greg tried it. It remains a naff idea today.

      • Prem, Sachin on recent evidence- albeit the evidence was precisely 11 months ago- has shown a tendency to accelerate after getting his eye in after 5 or 6 overs.

  8. I would go for Pragyan Ojha instead of Jadeja. A quality left arm spinner (Jadeja isnt one and his batting prowess is overstated) is a good bet against right hand batsmen when they are threatening to go after him as the ball spins away.

    Not too keen on Praveen Kumar on Indian Tracks – Too slow for comfort. Can at best bowl only 5-6 overs with the new ball when the ball is moving around.

    Ambatti Rayudu looked a class act last IPL. Much better than Tiwary. And he could be the back up Keeper in case Dhoni is injured.

    Though I might sound silly and he is not in the original list, VVS Laxman should have been in and playing instead of Yuvraj. He could bring a sense of calmness in the middle order at 5. And he is in the form of his life.

    • I’m with you on PK. About Ojha, the one reason I’d pick Ashwin ahead of him is that Ashwin is an aggressive bowler like Ojha, but bowls the wicket to wicket line naturally and that makes him the harder to get away. Rayudu, spot on — that lad should have been playing for India for the last couple of years at least — his is a case of a sadly screwed career thanks to selectors at the state and national levels. VVS is one player I am not so sure about. No question about his form in the long form, but middle over play in ODIs is a lot about rotating strike rapidly, ticking it over, and VVS is not the player I would pick as having that skill set just now.

  9. I had written a little piece of my own yesterday, where my thoughts run on similar lines. My line-up has the extra wicket keeper, but otherwise my prediction on who would be selected as against who should be is chronicled here:

    The piece is long, and incomplete, but to summarise, yes, most of team selects itself, and not entirely due to proven ability but more so the lack of strong alternatives. My own 15 thus has some “courageous” changes, but not World Cup winning ones

    • A reason I’d avoid the extra wicketkeeper is, the event is happening in India. There is no way two keepers will make the playing eleven, so no point filling up a berth in the team, since if something happens to MS you can always call up a replacement at once.

      • What is the exact World Cup rule on substitutes for injured players during the tournament? Specifically, if a player is injured and the team wants a replacement, does the replacement get in for the rest of the tournament, i.e., the injured player is out for the rest of tournament? Suppose Dhoni pulls a hamstring early in the tournament which rules him out for one game. Can a replacement come in for one game and then be replaced back out again by Dhoni later in the tournament? If injury replacements are permanent then not having a second keeper may be costly.

  10. Sir – I am eagerly waiting for a post on the powerplays. I tried to get the powerplay(Specifically the 3rd one) statistics of last 10 ODI’s that India have played. As per my understanding they haven’t done well enough. It would also be interesting to compare the Powerplay stats of the top 4 teams Ind,SA,Eng and Aus. Waiting for the Post.

  11. How about Ambati Raydu? He can keep wickets and good enough bat . But he will then be a capped player and may not suit the IPL franchise.

    • Rayudu is another player I would seriously have in my frame. Been overdue — and I don’t give a hoot for IPL dynamics. That is a tamasha, this is a global event with the national team participating.

      • I agree, Rayudu is due for a long time especially after his performance in Ranji Trophy this season (if one excludes the final). But then we have the BCCI team in world cup and not India team, so separating the dynamics not clear and dry as one would like to. Anyways not that all of it matters anymore with the predictable team being selected.

  12. Harsha Bhogle has picked 16 players. I believe the WC squad is limited to 15 players. So one of his 16 will have to miss out. I suspect that that person will be Ravindra Jadeja! It’s hard to pick a fight on any of the remaining 15 players in Harsha’s team other than Rohit Sharma! That fight will depend on whether India wants another batsman or another pace bowler. It will, therefore, be a toss-up between (a) an under-performing and lazy Rohit Sharma, (b) an over-rated and muddled Sreesanth, and (c) an under-worked, under-whipped and under-coooked Ishant Sharma. Another option might be to junk (a), (b) and (c) above and go for the traditional drinks carrier in such tournaments — Dinesh Karthik! This guy is quite used to carrying the drinks and manages to carry a few towels too. Moreover, and more importantly, he has the additional advantage of having domicile status in the power-house of cricket these days!

  13. I’d have taken a Saurabh Tiwary in lieu of Yuvraj who still looks bloated and below peak fitness levels. For the all-rounder slot, I’d keep Irfan away as big bro is a better bet on dusty Indian tracks. Of course, one isn’t convinced that Irfan has got his reverse swing and slower ball going as well as they did in SA 2007. My biggest concern is the fitness of our main three – SRT, VS and GG who are carrying injuries and may not be in peak form. However, as you said, we have a largely empty chest when it comes to replacing these big guns.

    • My personal preference is for either of Rayudu or Manish ahead of Tiwary — I think one slogger is enough, in Yusuf; the other two are far better all round bats, both are awesome fielders as well.

      • Awesome fielder reminds me of jadeja. If he could have batted any better than bajji I would have had him in my team. All his crazier than watson run-outs would have been forgiven in lieu of his excellent arm from the deep and his economical bowling returns. If only…

    • Oh and about Irfan, one reason I keep thinking of him is that GG hasn’t been in peak physical fitness lately, and I can’t help thinking he is unlikely to last the distance. Irfan in the side gives me a wild card option — actually, two. Him batting at 6 or 7 is an asset; if I need to, I can slot him in to replace the left hander in the opening slot and give it a bit of a go at the top. Multiple options, hence.

  14. Why can’t the selectors try a tearaway raw untested fast bowler as a surprise element.Being a Tournament format,less chances of his breaking down.
    In Spin why’s can’t we have an alternate to Bhajji-why is he an automatic choice (reputation?)

    • My thoughts too on Bhaji. Why is he an automatic choice for all the 3 formats? Where are the stats or results to back it?

    • About the tearaway fast bowler, I am not sure there is one with pace sufficient to make an impact on Indian conditions. About Bajji, though, I am totally with you — if I were picking, I’d make Ashwin my first choice spinner for this tournament.

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