Monday, June 25, 2012

New look Indian team for World T20

India's success in 2007, turned a team of unknowns into overnight superstars.
On the 24th of September 2007, India's victory in ICC World T20 championships reinvigorated the fortunes of a flailing team and recaptured lost public faith. Overnight, the horrors of the preceding ODI World cup debacle were forgotten and players regained their idol like stature.

That tournament was remarkable for many reasons. The old triumvirate of Ganguly, Tendulkar and Dravid were excluded from the squad and team comprised of a large number of unknown entities. The likes of Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan and Gautam Gambhir, shot to overnight fame and were revered throughout the nation. The success of the tournament instilled newfound confidence within the younger generation and trigerred a set of events that eventually culminated in the Indian team  attaining the number one ranking in Tests and winning the 2011 World Cup. The result prompted the BCCI and the ICC to further invest in the shortest format and catapulted the status of T20 from casual entertainment to a serious international competition.

The economic gains from the event were unparalleled and trigerred the formation of the IPL and various other lucrative domestic leagues. Had any other nation won the tournament (Australia, England, South Africa), the game would never have reached such lofty heights and its success can be credited to the popularity of the sport in the worlds second most populous nation.

Yet since its initial success, India's 2 successive world T20 campaigns have been nothing short of disasters. One would expect since the introduction of the IPL, the Indian players would have become more adept at the format. But, the team's standards have declined, with most of the blame resting on its woeful batting. The IPL is played on flat subcontinental pitches, that are neither conducive to spin or pace. On such tracks the likes of Virender Sehwag and Rohit Sharma can afford to play across the line and slog at will, fully aware of the fact that the track harbours no demons that could expose their flawed techniques. Also, in an IPL match a player may face 10 or 15 balls from an International standard bowler, but all the while he knows that if he can withstand the momentary barrage, theres a feast to be enjoyed against lesser experienced domestic players. When placed on difficult strips against a moving ball, the Indian batsman are dead ducks.

This years tournament is being hosted in Sri Lanka, thus the Indians have the comfort of playing in reasonably familiar territory. The slow and low Sri Lankan pitches are similar to Indian wickets, providing virtually no assistance to fast bowlers. The batsmen technique will not be rigorously tested by bouncer barrages and batsman can play across the line with a sense of security.

Still the Indian selectors must design a versatile XI that is capable of handling friendly as well as testing conditions. Performing under pressure in this tournament could provide youngsters with a pathway into the Test side and it is vital that selectors give opportunities to upcoming players.

My proposed 11 and 5 reserves for the tournament are:

  1. Gautam Gambhir (vc)
  2. Mandeep Singh
  3. Ajinkya Rahane
  4. Virat Kohli
  5. Ambati Rayudu
  6. MS Dhoni (wk) (c)
  7. Yusuf Pathan
  8. R Ashwin
  9. Shahbaz Nadeem
  10. Umesh Yadav
  11.  Zaheer Khan

Reserves: Suresh Raina, Pragyan Ojha, Ashok Dinda, Rohit Sharma, Irfan Pathan

Despite question marks lingering over his captaincy, Dhoni still managed to lead Chennai to the IPL finals. He is a proven performer in the role and at this stage it is premature to consider stripping him of the captaincy. In the IPL we witnessed Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel struggle once again, while Wriddhiman Saha lacks the aggressive edge to dominate in T20, making Dhoni the only possible choice.

Virender Sehwag is already a key part of the test and ODI sides that is where his country needs him to perform. Over the past few months he has struggled in overseas tours and reportedly caused interal rift within the squad. He needs time for introspection and needs to return to the nets so he can concentrate on progressing in the longer versions. Involving him in T20 will continue to foster the reckless aspects of his game, encouraging him to continue with the brash shot a ball approach, and could be harmful to his test prosects. In Mandeep Singh, India have a young talent who could flourish in this tournament and use this as a stepping stone to establish himself in international cricket. His domestic and IPL performances have been excellent and he thoroughly deserves this opportunity.

Ajinkya Rahane and Kohli at 3 and 4 respectively add much needed stability to the floundering middle order. Both are solid technically and can adapt their styles to suit the situation. They both have the skills to rotate the strike and build an innings, but when needed they are also capable of accelerating and striking boundaries. Rahane should be preferred to a man like Raina or Rohit Sharma because in England he was able to confront the challenges of the swinging delivery and outshone his counterparts in the ODI leg. Raina and Rohit have been horribly inconsistent in international cricket and their lack of stability has been hurting the team's chances.

Ambati Rayudu has excelled for Mumbai Indians in the last 3 years and this season he highlighted his strength of character by guiding his team to 3 last over victories, even hitting a  6 of the final ball to seal a match. Rayudu is a hard working and tenacious players who oozes with talent and his ability to re-build and consolidate an innings in times of crisis is a rare and desirable trait. Pathan has been out of sorts, yet with a stable technically correct order (Kohli, Rahane, Rayudu), he can play afford to play with greater freedom.Like Gayle or Pollard, if he clicks he can potentially win a game single handed. His part time spin along with Kohli's medium pace provides Dhoni with 2 options to fill the role of the 5th of bowler.

Ashwin and Nadeem were the most successful spinners in the IPL taking wickets while maintaining an economy below 7.5, while Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav have been India's most successful bowlers over the past season.

The reserves Rain, Rohit, Irfan and Ojha can slot seamlessly into any of the positions in case members of starting squad are underperforming and add greater flexibility to the squad. On a seaming wicket, Dhoni could replace Nadeem with Irfan to increase the depth of a batting line up that has historically struggled against pace while adding a proficient second seamer to the line up. Yusuf could make way for Raina if he is struggling for form, while Rohit could act as a replacement for either Kohli or Rayudu.


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