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India's Twenty20 Prospects
by Partab Ramchand
Aug 09, 2007
It is a young man’s game this Twenty20 and it is no surprise that many elder statesmen of various sides have either indicated their unavailability or have been dropped. But even here a certain amount of experience is not misplaced and that is the message the selectors have conveyed in their picking the squad for the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa next month.

The selection of Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag underscores this. The three are the only members of the squad to have made their international debuts before the start of the new millennium and all of them have played over 150 ODIs. There is no point in talking about the squad’s Twenty20 experience for the country itself has played only a solitary ODI – against South Africa in December last year which India won by six wickets with one ball remaining.

Given this background one cannot be optimistic about the team’s chances. My mind goes back to the inaugural World Cup in 1975. Test matches still held a very special place in the hearts of the Indian cricket fan and there wasn'’t much interest in the team’'s fortunes in England. The Indians having played just two ODI’s till then – losing both to England – were given little chance of doing well. Predictably enough Srinivas Venkatraghavan’'s squad failed to make the semifinals despite being placed in an easier group.

The scenario is slightly different this time around. The fortunes of Dhoni'’s team will be closely followed thanks to a metamorphosis in the involvement of the media but expectations will not be high. Not that there have been too many Twenty20 international matches played but three decades ago there were not too many ODIs played either. And one remains skeptical whether the interest in Twenty20 matches the following of ODIs which are still very popular in India.

In a way this could work out to India’'s advantage. So often these days have unreasonable expectations been placed on Indian teams and the result is that unable to withstand this pressure they have come a cropper. The foremost example is of course the disastrous World Cup campaign in the Caribbean this year.

So Dhoni’'s team can land in South Africa with that much less pressure on them. All the same one must have a team capable of pulling off something special and it is a moot point whether the Indians are capable of providing a surprise or two. They are in group D along with Pakistan and Scotland so their passage to the next round can be taken for granted (I will stick my neck out on this one despite what happened in the World Cup!). After that India will have three matches in the Super Eight against the qualifiers from the other groups and making it to the semifinals from this stage will be a difficult proposition.

But then the Twenty20 game as we have seen is even more unpredictable than ODIs. The cliché that on any given day any team can beat the other is absolutely true when it comes to the newest fad in the game. The selectors, give or take a couple of minor surprise inclusions and omissions, have picked the best available side and it is particularly gratifying to note that Irfan Pathan has been given an avenue to make a comeback to the bigger stage. Yusuf, Irfan's elder brother who is the only representative in the squad yet to make his international debut gets his big break. The emphasis as to be expected has rightly been on youth laced with a touch of experience as pointed out. Dhoni is an exciting choice as skipper as he can be trusted upon to lead from the front and hopefully inspire his teammates to great deeds.

As far as the one day squad to play England in seven ODIs is concerned the omission of Sreesanth is about the only surprise. Even if Munaf Patel was certified fit it was expected that a bowler already in England, with the experience of two Tests and ODIs behind him would retain his place especially when he has not done badly. One wonders whether it is some sort of disciplinary action following his appalling behaviour at Trent Bridge. The suspense will continue to haunt Sreesanth while presenting an intriguing question for Indian cricket fans.
 
More Views by Partab Ramchand
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