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By Partab Ramchand
Should the IPL constitute a yardstick for selection to the Indian team? Or should it be domestic first class cricket? Or the recent World Cup? These questions have been raised following the selection of the Indian ODI and Twenty20 teams to tour the West Indies. In the absence of senior players – some injured, others rested – there were bound to be surprising omissions and inclusions in the 16-member squad and the Kris Srikkanth led selection committee have made a few. It appears that they have been guided more by the performances in the domestic first class game rather than the IPL even though the team will figure in five ODIs and one Twenty20 game. A player’s showing in the World Cup did count of course.
The first thing one notices about the selected squad is the Indian bench strength. In the absence of Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Virender Sehwag and MS Dhoni the selectors have picked suitable replacements because these are readily available. And to think that a couple of other candidates have been rather unlucky in not making the squad!
Let’s start with the captaincy first. In the absence of Dhoni Gautam Gambhir has led India capably – including a 5-0 sweep in the ODIs against New Zealand last year - and was always the front runner to lead the team to the Caribbean. His deputy however is a bit of a surprise. Instead of Suresh Raina one would have preferred Virat Kohli who is already looked upon as a future Indian captain based primilarly on his leading the Indian Under-19 team to a title triumph in the World Cup in 2008. However it is good to see Yuvraj not being named vice captain. It’s best he is left best to cocentrate on his manifold duties now that he has more or less become a frontline spinner in limited overs cricket.
The ideal team composition would have been seven batsmen and seven bowlers and one utility man. But with the selectors deciding to pick an extra keeper the number had to swell to 16. It is here that the choice can be questioned. I would have preferred Dinesh Kartik to Wriddhiman Saha and on the performances in the IPL the highly talented Ambatti Rayudu who can keep wickets would have been the better choice.
Parthiv Patel comes back as first choice stumper but he is also to double up as an opening batsman. He has seized his chances both in domestic cricket and the IPL and makes a well deserved return. The rest of the batting itself. Besides the captain and the vice captain, Yuvraj, Rohit Sharma, S Badrinath and Virat Kohli were always going to be predictable choices given the batting skills and recent performances. The return of Badrinath is most welcome. He played the last of his three ODIs almost three years ago his batting being regarded as more suitable to Test cricket but he has shown a great deal of adaptability and in the absence of Tendulkar, Dhoni and Sehwag should now be considered as a must in the side especially considering his recent form.
Two of the three spin bowlers – Harbhajan Singh and Ravichandran Ashwin – were certainties but considerable discussion centered round the inclusion of the third spinner. Pragyan Ojha, Amit Mishra and Piyush Chawla were always going to be the contenders but the IPL threw up another serious candidate in Rahul Sharma. The young and tall leg spinner has created an indelible impression while turning out for Pune Warriors in the IPL by his subtle bowling skills and was regarded as having an outside chance of making the squad. He has just missed out but his time will undoubtely come for he is an exciting prospect who needs to be nurtured. He is able to extract both turn and bounce and what’s more is remarkably accurate. In the meantime it must be said that Mishra is a little lucky in making the trip ahead of Ojha though the opponents being West Indies – traditionally vulnerable against orthodox leg spin – could well have weighed in his favour.
Yusuf Pathan was always going to be ahead of Ravindra Jadeja and anyone else when it came to fielding the utility man while in the absence of Zaheer Khan, three of the medium pace bowlers Parveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel picked themselves. The promising Vinay Kumar who has played in two ODIs and three Twenty20 internationals has rightfully been given another chance to show that he belongs at the highest level with Sreesanth being the one to miss out.