S. Ram Mahesh
The squad has a balance of sage heads and fresh minds
The one real concern is fieldingPerformance at Rajkot helps Sreesanth's cause
CHENNAI: The selection of the Indian squad for the World Cup has little to cavil at. Understandably, there are no major surprises: this isn't the stage to send out the callow with no more than a prayer. Yet, the fact that 14 of the 15 all but picked themselves because there wasn't an option or three for each spot causes a touch of concern.
The selectors had dropped hints with the squad of 15 they picked for the first two ODIs against Sri Lanka. A rehabilitated Virender Sehwag was to be watched. A 23-ball 19 inclusive of one exceptional off-drive, and terminated by the kind of dinky stroke hindsight always views with disfavour, wasn't quite what the selectors would have hoped for. Sehwag, however, offers something few do in a big game: the ability to cleave it open and win it.
Irfan Pathan was another under the scanner. Sent home mid-way through the tour of South Africa expressly to rediscover his bowling rhythm, Pathan has played just one game since returning to international cricket. The left-armer's performance figures of one for 43 off seven overs against West Indies at Vadodara where the next most expensive Indian bowler went for 4.4 runs an over didn't proffer conclusive evidence of a turnaround.
But, Pathan, when capable of winkling out the early wicket, affords flexibility. Crucially, for all his scrutinised failings with the ball, he's perceived as having the heart for battle.
Sreesanth nailed the one open spot with his performance at Rajkot. The 15th member was expected to be chosen from Ramesh Powar, the off-spinner, Suresh Raina, the potentially very good batsman and proven world-class fielder, and Sreesanth. A shortening of length against the Sri Lankan batsmen fetched figures of two for 39 off ten and a nod of appreciation from Dilip Vengsarkar, chairman of selectors.
Five fast-medium bowlers for the West Indies, where tracks have slowed considerably over the years, may seem like overkill. A recent recce mission from Cricket Australia, however, reported that the playing strips for the World Cup were likely to volunteer more pace and bounce than expected.
Consequently, Powar misses out. The rotund off-spinner from Mumbai had the unenviable task of competing with Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh for the two spin spots. That Powar is a flight bowler, and that the smaller grounds of the West Indies, which struggle to contain mishits, may compromise his style probably went against him. Powar also did little to corroborate the reputation he has in domestic cricket of being a resourceful hitter down the order; he thus offered little incrementally with the bat or in the field over Kumble and Harbhajan. His time, however, will come.
Cause for worry
The one real concern is fielding. A year back, the off-side cordon featured men of the calibre of Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, and Suresh Raina, each capable of defining, match-turning moments. But a partial return to the old guard has raised fears that an inordinate number of runs will be leaked. In this light, Yuvraj's recovery from the cruciate ligament tear is most heartening. The one thing in India's favour though is that the Caribbean offers the means for subversion: if a captain can get his angles just right on the small grounds, he can, even with slow movers, eliminate threes and a majority of the twos; throwing arms are examined more leniently as well.
The squad seemingly has a balance of sage heads and fresh minds. Robin Uthappa is the wildcard every World Cup squad needs; Dinesh Karthik makes it as a batsman though he can replace the invaluable M.S. Dhoni should anything untoward happen. But, as Dravid pointed out, India's success depends on its six or seven key players certainties all hitting form.