A surfeit of options is usually considered a good thing. “It's a good headache to have”, selectors will say, when asked about competition for places. Usually, though, there is some hierarchy at play that makes it easier to leave some players out at the expense of some others.

Looking at the choices India's selectors will have to make in picking the World Cup squad, it's quite clear that the toughest decision to make will concern the fast bowlers. Fifteen frontline seamers have bowled for India in one-dayers since January 2009. Most of them, however, will not trouble the selectors too much.

But six names — Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth and Munaf Patel — will give them their most splitting migraine ahead of the big event. No hierarchy, overt or subtle, orders them.

At the 2003 World Cup, India's 15-man squad had four fast bowlers. In 2007, there were five, thanks to Irfan Pathan's all-round ability. With no seam bowling all-rounder in serious contention, the selectors will most likely go with just four this time.

From January 2009 to the third ODI against New Zealand, Sreesanth and Munaf have played the least matches of the six seamers in contention, 10 and 11 respectively, while the others have featured in more than 20 games each.

These two, however, have reminded selectors of their qualities during the ongoing series. Sreesanth picked up three wickets in both the matches he has played, swinging the ball at the start and coming back later to break niggly partnerships.

Most impressively, he has bowled very close to off stump. A major reason for Sreesanth being the second-most expensive bowler in history among those with over 50 ODI wickets is the width he has tended to give batsmen in searching for the outswinger.

But equally, he boasts a fantastic strike rate, 31.9, only a few decimal points higher than those of Shoaib Akhtar and Allan Donald.

Munaf, meanwhile, has been the consummate first change in this series, bowling a tight off-stump line and getting wickets with the ball that jags back off the seam. His career economy rate is the best among the six, and he and Zaheer are the only two who have gone at under five an over.

In recent times, Zaheer hasn't been at his best in ODIs, averaging nearly 40 since the start of 2009. But it shouldn't be a very significant stat. As a big-match performer, who played a leading role in getting India to the World Cup final in 2003, and as the clear leader of the pack, there's no doubting his place in the squad. When he's in form, few batsmen can get on top of him. On Saturday, the New Zealand top-order simply couldn't deal with the unrelenting questions he posed.

Regular combination

Praveen Kumar and Ashish Nehra have been India's regular opening combination in recent ODIs, and have largely done a good job, with the former using the new ball cleverly and the latter instrumental in a number of crucial wicket bursts, including a match-winning four for 40 in the Asia Cup final at Dambulla.

But both have poor records on Indian wickets — Nehra averages 44.14 in India and Praveen a worrying 67.75. It is on these pitches that India will play all but one of its World Cup matches, however far it progresses, thanks to the announcement that host nations will play their knock-outs at home.

And so, while this factor shouldn't take an undue precedence, it is something the selectors will need to ponder. In comparison, Zaheer averages 32.44 in India, Munaf 31.73, Sreesanth an impressive 27.10 (while still leaking runs at over a run a ball) and Ishant 36.25.

Ishant, meanwhile, offers a completely different bowling style to the others. In a team of fast-medium swing and seam merchants, the 22-year-old beanpole hits the deck and troubles batsmen with bounce.

After a below-par 2009, Ishant has been used sparingly this year.

Rejuvenated by the rest he'd been getting, he bowled with control and verve in the tri-series in Sri Lanka in August, in all the matches until the final, where India's seamers ran into the rampant Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara.

His early-career form also seems to be returning, if in spurts, as shown by crucial Test spells at Mohali against Australia and at Nagpur against the Kiwis. How he bowls in the Tests against South Africa could well determine if he makes the cut for the five-match ODI series that follows. That squad should be a prototype for the World Cup 15, and a source of much debate and consternation.


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