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Saturday, January 12, 2013

India - back to the learning curve

Indian cricket, whether it is the test or the ODI version, is back to the drawing board where most of the players are learning their way around. Yes, there are seniors involved but they are now learning how to play with new players as well as realizing that they now don the mantle that they depended on others like Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Zaheer Khan and Virender Sehwag (to name a few).

Sehwag might be still in the scheme of things in test cricket but looking at his reflexes, it will not be for long. Gautam Gambhir would have been the ideal choice for the person whom MS Dhoni could depend on, for the rebuilding process. But, Gambhir himself is undergoing a process of bad form (which brings in gaps in technique and skill). Virat Kohli is now showing everyone why the option of having him as the captain of the Indian team is such a bad idea - he is in the midst of a lean patch that every player goes through after a successful first stint. We all know what the veteran legend is going through but let us assume for the time being that he is not available for selection (Blasphemy!)

Yuvraj has shone in the shorter version but very clearly he is not made out for the longer version. This then means that there are multiple slots that remain in the batting order, assuming Pujara, Gambhir and Kohli are there in the top six:

  • Opening batsman - Murali Vijay did well in the opportunities he received but those were few years ago and then failed to deceive in overseas tests. Abhinav Mukund did decently in some of those overseas tests but has lost his form in domestic matches. Ajinkya Rahane is another option to look at, but I think he is more cut out for the middle order than the opening slot. The Indian think-tank should do well to keep Vijay and Mukund in the running unless there is an extraordinary talent on the scene.
  • Middle-order - Here, there are two slots up for grabs and the selectors favourite choice at this time seem to be Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja. Jadeja is no No.6 batsman while Rohit Sharma has failed more than delivered in the many opportunities he has received. Who else? As mentioned earlier, Rahane should occupy one of the slots and then leave No. 6 to MS Dhoni. In the ODI's however, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina will walk in without a doubt - there is no room for anyone else. Jadeja has been bowling well recently and he will continue probably at No.7 then.
Who will play at No.7 then? Ravichandran Ashwin. Not because of his bowling but due to his great performances with the bat and he has showed that he can do a good job even in overseas conditions. His form is not so great with the ball but then we can wait, as he has the talent.

Let us go to the bowling side then - who are the best four bowlers for India then? Whenever Irfan Pathan is fit, he will provide balance to the side and he can be direct competition to Ashwin. If not, both of them can play parts of both and provide the best options for positions 7 and 8. With the next test series in India, obviously India will have to go with two spinners and on current form and performance, Pragyan Ojha is the ideal candidate to go with Ashwin. The two new-ball overs will then have to be Ishant Sharma and Asok Dinda, though I am not so convinced about Dinda's ability in test matches. If Sreesanth and Praveen Kumar can return to top form after recovering from injury, they will be a good addition to the squad. Shami Ahmed and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar have done well and it will be good if they are given a long lease in the Indian dressing room.

What will help is that the selectors should ensure all these bowlers talk regularly and keep improving - this is where the bowling coach should play a big role. Whether the current coach has played in India is a different issue but his impact should be seen (there is no point in blaming Duncan Fletcher alone). With a younger team, MS Dhoni should be able to solve most of the problems on the field but then he has to become more vocal on the field. It is good to be cool on the field but maybe he has to show more emotions now! He will play the crucial role of moulding the unit that he has to a world-class side again. The BCCI should organize matches against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe away so that these matches will be used to test the new combination thoroughly. Only then, they will be ready for the bigger tests.
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