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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Indian team for the World Cup

India's cricket selectors have several hard choices to make before they name the squad for the World Cup 2007, and it will be extremely interesting to see who will make it and who will miss out.

Back in April, 2005, if a squad had to selected from the pool of Indian players, the ideal choice would have been: Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, Venugopal Rao, Irfan Pathan, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Ajit Agarkar, RP Singh , Munaf Patel, Harbhajan Singh and Ramesh Powar.

This was the 15 that had been together for almost 30 matches during Greg Chappell’s “mentorship” and Rahul Dravid’s captaincy. VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly had become extinct because of their limited skills - or should I call it uni-dimensional capabilities. It was thought that an individual had to contribute in at least two areas to be part of the ODI team for India.

Laxman and Ganguly could contribute mainly in the batting department while Anil Kumble could bowl 10 decent overs, even though that contribution was not considered significant enough in the ODIs. Players like Venugopal Rao and Raina were thought as the likely replacements for Laxman and Ganguly. Along with Kaif and Yuvraj, the Indian fielding had an extra edge over its rivals. In fact, one of the matches featured one of the best Indian fielding efforts ever.

But of late, Kaif and Venugopal Rao have dropped out of the reckoning as they haven’t capitalised on the chances given to them in the recent past. Raina probably just makes it because of his exceptional fielding. Laxman has not been given a chance at all. His fitness and running between the wickets is claimed as the reason why he is not in the reckoning, and although he is a great slip fielder he would lose out because of his moderate fielding generally. I would agree with Dinesh Karthick in the mix.

This is my idea of a sound World Cup squad, taking into account the specialist areas.

Opening the Batting
This had been one of the worries of the Indian team recently, especially the recent West indies and South Africa tour. But the Windies series provided us with three additional options. First-choice Viru Sehwag could be partnered by either Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa or Ganguly. Tendulkar seems to have settled down at No 4 in the batting order and it is unlikely he would be considered for the opening slot.

Sehwag is always dangerous for international opponents when he is in form – this factor alone is good enough for him to be selected. Ganguly seems to have occupied one half of the opening pair by his recent score Uthappa seems to have taken an edge over Gambhir as of now. So, I would go for Sehwag and Sourav to open the batting with Uthappa as the backup opener.

This looks more solid on recent performances. The options available are Dravid, Tendulkar, Karthick and Raina. Dravid has come back to his normal No 3 slot and regained his form during the last series against the WIndies. Tendulkar was the Man of the Series so things seem to be looking solid. I would take Raina just for the 12th man slot. Karthick will get into the team in case of injuries cover.

Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Irfan Pathan are as vital cogs in the Indian machine as are Dravid and Tendulkar. The Indian team's fortune slide started once these three lost their form. Singh's fielding and bowling will be a useful asset in the Windies conditions. And do we need to say anything about Dhoni? He can be really explosive at the slog, with a strike rate in the region of 150 to 200.

The bowling has improved by leaps and bounds. This was seen during the recent series against South Africa when the batsmen were not able to capitalize on the bowlers performances. The pace department has been well served by Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Munaf Patel and Irfan Pathan. The back-up options are RP Singh and Vikram R Singh. I would say that Sreesanth might be left out simply because he seems to be a costly option in the ODIs. Munaf will make it to the team once he proves that he is free from injury.

The spinpin department looks settled again with Kumble and Harbhajan Singh the main options available. Ramesh Powar would feel bad if he missed out, but that’s because he is competing against the two best spinners in Indian cricket at the moment. Murali Kartik and Piyush Chawla are the other options but their chances look remote.

My final 15 would be: Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, Robin Uthappa, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh K Raina, Dinesh Karthick, Mahendra S Dhoni, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, Munaf Patel, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble.
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