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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Indian World Cup Team

Since the time Greg Chappell has joined the team, there has been experimentation with the various slots in the Indian team and the team has played more than 30 matches in his regime.

Have the Indians found the core nuclues of the World Cup Squad? Going by the trend of the matches that India has played recently, I would definitely say a resounding YES.

The idea has been that India would play with some of the junior (read as untested) players for some matches and see how they would cope with the pressure of the International Cricket.

That explains the exclusion of LAXMAN, KUMBLE and SOURAV. These 3 players have been past their prime, especially in the ODIs. When was the last time you saw Kumble with a match-winning performance in the ODIs? Long Long ago.

Sourav and Laxman with their poor fielding skills and the fact that all the three of them can contribute in only one area (Sourav hasnt been bowling regularly of late in the ODIs) - has made them the prime candidates for replacement. Hence, the inclusion of Murali Karthik and Ramesh Powar in the spin department, Suresh Raina and Venugopal Rao in the batting department. If the experiment had failed, the think-tank could always fall back on the seniors.

Now, because of their experimentation, what has happened is that they have found the new stars who are good in their core competencies and can also contribute in the other areas as well. Raina and Rao are decent spin bowlers as well, which the Indian team has so far not realized at all. They are great fielders and can save runs on the field as well - this couldnt have been said of the three named above. In fact, if there were any passengers on the field, it would have been Sourav, Kumble and Laxman, not necessarily in that order.

After the 30 matches, who are the likely players for the World Cup ? Let us see in each areas:

Batting - This had been one of the strengths of the Indian team recently - proof of this has been the Australian tour where the Indians managed to draw the series. But only in the tests, not in the ODIs. As of now, the status of the batting is that India holds the record for 16 straight successful batting chases in the ODIs. When did India win more than 2 or 3 matches chasing a target? Previously, it was unknown. Now, it is just a matter of formality.

Who are the candidates for Opening the Indian innings? There are a lot of choices now. It could be anyone of Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Sachin R Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Aiyudda Robin Uthappa or even Saurav C Ganguly. The last named would be a surprise, if he is selected. But, the options that look likely seem to be SRT and Sehwag. Rahul Dravid could be another option. I am sure for some more time, Robin Uthappa would be given a chance in the ODIs to prove himself. Vidyuth S is another dark-horse that I would think would be in the reckoning as well.

Middle-Order - The middle order looks more solid now with performances in the recent past that gives enough confidence to the think-tank. The options available are Mohammad Kaif, Suresh K Raina, Yalaka Venugopal Rao, Vangipurappu V S Laxman. Again, VVS is another option available to the Indian time, which I would guess doesnt seem likely at this point. Where is Yuvraj and Dhoni? They are in the next section of players...

All-Rounders - I think to be fair to Irfan Pathan, he is no Kapil Dev. And there will not be another Kapil Dev also. But, Indians have got 3 players who can contribute atleast 75% of what Kapil Dev was capable of - which is GREAT!!! They are Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra S Dhoni, Irfan K Pathan. Together, this trio has contributed most effectively to the Indian cause, which can be seen in the fact that more than 40% of the MoM awards won by the Indians have been by these 3 gentlemen. They are as vital cogs in the Indian machine as are Rahul Dravid and SRT. Dinesh Karthik gives the backup option should Dhoni feel the heat of the continous matches or gets injured.

Bowling - The bowling has improved by leaps and bounds. This is visible in the number of times the bowlers have been able to get the opposition team dismissed. Previously, the experts would wonder whether the Indian bowling would be able to take 10 wickets at all in an ODI. Again, in recent history, it has been more often than not.

The Pace department has been well served by Pathan and the other specialists. The
front-runners from this group are Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Ajit B Agarkar, Rudra P Singh , Munaf M Patel, Vikram R Singh, Ashish Nehra, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Zaheer Khan. The last 3 seem to have disappeared from the bowling scene either due to injuries or bad form. They would be invaluable options if they can make a comeback in the domestic season and prove that they have it in them to make it to the Indian team back. I think in the remaining matches leading to the World Cup, RPS and Munaf should be given chances so that they can be evaluated as well. I am not sure whether VRV can make it to the team atleast in the 2007 WC.

Spin Department looks settled again with Harbhajan Singh being the leader of the pack. He seems to have rediscovered his form after the bashing from the Pakistan team. Ramesh Powar, Murali Kartik, Piyush Chawla, Anil Kumble are the other options available, though I would assume that other than Powar, the rest are backup options. Piyush would have to wait for some more time before he makes it to the ODIs (Probably its better for him to be in the test team only). Anil Kumble making it to the World Cup would only depend on whether Ramesh Powar or Harbhajan get injured or get into a terrible loss of form (which would be highly unlikely at this point of time).

So, the World Cup Indian team would be
  • Rahul Dravid,
  • Virender Sehwag,
  • Sachin R Tendulkar,
  • Yuvraj Singh,
  • Mahendra S Dhoni,
  • Mohammad Kaif,
  • Suresh K Raina,
  • Yalaka Venugopal Rao,
  • Irfan K Pathan,
  • Shanthakumaran Sreesanth,
  • Ajit B Agarkar,
  • Rudra P Singh ,
  • Munaf M Patel,
  • Harbhajan Singh,
  • Ramesh Powar.

This squad of 15 has a mix of players who can contribute in more than one area, which in itself is great. SRT, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Raina can bowl whereas Pathan, Ramesh, Agarkar, Harbhajan can contribute with the bat. All of them are good fielders, which translates to runs saved on the field and as we all know, runs saved is as good as runs scored.

Looking at this team and the fact that the World Cup is being played on relatively flat wickets of the carribean Islands, I feel that the Indians are the favorites. The Aussies bowling is not all that great (ask the South Africans about it), which will be a big disadvantage to their great batting lineup. Pakistan will come close to the Indians but as always they are not consistent.
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