Barring burn-out and injury (or a horrendous loss of form), this is the core of the World Cup team.
By Suresh Menon
Is the squad in New Zealand India's finest in one-day cricket? The batting is so strong that it does two things. One, it makes up for the lack of a genuine all rounder, someone who would make the team for his batting or bowling alone. And two, when India bat first, the top half collectively acts as an extra bowler, running up totals that put extra pressure on the opposition.
Watching the Indian batsmen riding roughshod over New Zealand in the Christchurch one-dayer, it was difficult to think of a batting line-up that clicked together so well. Clearly the thought had occurred to others too, notably Sachin Tendulkar who said after the match that this was the best he had been a part of in his career.
A simple exercise will show just how good the current team is. Let's pick a joint team with the one that won the World Cup in 1983, result-wise the most successful Indian team. I cannot see any of numbers 1 to 5 then - Sunil Gavaskar, K Srikkanth, MohinderAmarnath, Yashpal Sharma, Sandip Patil - replacing any of the current crop. With Sehwag and Gambhir to open (this is still the best combination, and avoids left handers bunching up in the middle), Tendulkar, Yuvraj and Dhoni to follow, that is obvious.
This is not reverse snobbery, acknowledgement that the past was never as good as the present. It is merely being practical. Also, we must keep in mind the fact that as the sport evolves and becomes more sophisticated in terms of tactics and strategy, those who played later have a natural advantage over those who played a quarter century ago. Players of an earlier generation have to push harder to find a place in later teams.
Numbers 6 to 11 in the combined team also fall into place quite easily. In 1983, most of the places (with one exception) were taken up by the bits-and-pieces men, then considered the backbone of any team. Batsmen who were picked for their bowling, bowlers who could bat, players who would struggle to find a place as pure batsmen or pure bowlers. Men like Kirti Azad, Roger Binny, Madan Lal, even Balwinder Sandhu. The exception was the captain, Kapil Dev, one of the finest all rounders to have played the game.
In the combined team, 6 to 11 would be: Suresh Raina, Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma. This would mean that of the five bowlers, two are front-line batsmen too.
Interestingly, only two players - Kapil and Shastri - make it to the combined team (although an argument could be made for Srikkanth as twelfth man, ahead of Irfan Pathan). That is how good the current team is; nine of them would replace the World Cup-winning squad, and no questions asked.
In two years, this team will be hoping to repeat that 1983 triumph. The average age of the team which played the last one-dayer was 27, with only three men having crossed 30. Tendulkar will be 38 in 2011, Sehwag and Zaheer 32, and Harbhajan 30. Dhoni will be getting ready to blow out 30 candles on his birthday cake.
Barring burn-out and injury (or a horrendous loss of form), this is the core of the World Cup team. Medium pacers are being rotated, older players are being rested to keep them fresh. That is the way to go. Preparations for the World Cup seem to be on track. This is good news for the finest one-day team to have taken the field for India.