As I sit down to write this piece, back to back upsets have turned the 12th edition of the World Cup cricket championship, being played in England and Wales, into a topsy-turvy affair, sending out signals that this event can be won by any team that can hold its nerve. In other words, it is one of the most open tournaments ever and there are no clear cut favourites.
Bangladesh overturned South Africa’s applecart in its first match, affecting the prospects of the Proteas, while a bruised Pakistan, blown away by a resurrected West Indies in its first tie, bounced back from the floor to snuff out top-ranked England’s challenge with a massive performance.
I don’t understand how India has to wait so long for its first game when several teams have played two matches each. When South Africa squares up against India, the former would be playing its third match.
Cricket followers are of the opinion that the prospects of India, considered as one of the top contenders for the crown, are good as it has a potent bowling attack and a strong batting line up as well. The team has also been athletic on the field, making other opponents wary of facing them. This article is, however, not meant to analyse the prospects of the different teams or the ongoing World Cup.
Irrespective of which team wins the World Cup this time, the efforts that have gone into shaping the Indian team and helped build up the second line are praiseworthy.
Having followed Indian cricket for nearly five decades, I have seen how players from Mumbai (then Bombay) and a few other Ranji teams crowded the Indian dressing room in the 1960s and 70s. There was a dearth of talent, forcing the selectors to experiment. If a player did not rise up to expectation, he was consigned to the pages of history.
Indian cricket has travelled a long way since then with the system effectively throwing up players whom the selectors want, but don’t find a place for them in the squad. The emphasis on the junior level has changed the scenario. Increased exposure to other international teams at the Under-19 and ‘A’ levels has greatly helped in raising the standard. The IPL has also certainly helped.
It was interesting when the debate surrounding who will bat at No. 4 in the Indian World Cup team continued on and on. The selectors intended skipper Virat Kohli to bat at No. 3 and there were several batsmen who popped up to fill up the No. 4 spot. From Ambati Rayudu to Manish Pandey to Vijay Shankar to Lokesh Rahul, the options were many. The first two did not make it to the team and it now appears that Rahul has clinched the spot, though Shankar and Dinesh Karthik are also available.
A lot of noise was heard over the exclusion of young wicketkeeper Rishav Pant who, many former cricketers felt, was tailor made to bat at No. 4. And India, they said, would dearly miss him. Pant did not find a berth in the team. With Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the team, and perhaps playing his last World Cup, other stumpers did not have much opportunity though Karthik is in the squad as a batsman.
What amazes one is the fact that there are a number of players who could walk into the team, but could not be accommodated. Openers Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal and Shubman Gill (who can bat in the middle order as well), if picked, could have performed as well as the others. But the future belongs to them.
In the middle order, several batsmen including Ajinkya Rahane, who is known for his classy batting, Shreyash Iyer, Manish Pandey, Hanuma Vihari, Nitish Rana, Siddhesh Lad, Karun Nair and Ricky Bhui have not been able to find a place in the squad, though they are ready for the international stage. Nair, in fact, hit a triple century in his third test.
Among stumpers, Srikar Bharat and Sanju Samson are two who have been making rapid strides.
In the spin department, India’s biggest name, Ravichandran Ashwin, is not in the World Cup team as Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravindra Jadeja sealed their places with the first two having been regularly fielded in the shorter versions of the game. Rahul Chahar, K. Gowtham, Mayank Markande and Shreyas Gopal have been waiting in the wings. Krunal Pandya, Hardik’s sibling, is also available.
But it is the list of medium pace and fast bowlers which has been spilling over. Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were definitely the first choice as the pacers for the World Cup, supported by all-rounders Hardik Pandya and Vijay Shankar. But the team could not accommodate the likes of Umesh Yadav, Khaleel Ahmed, Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj, Prasidh Krishna, Avesh Khan or Siddharth Kaul.
If you sit down to pick a team from among the discards, you can come up with a team (even two squads), which can give the Indian team in England and Wales close competition. Consider this team: Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer, Ajinkya Rahane (Capt), Manish Pandey, Rishav Pant (WK), Krunal Pandya, Rahul Chahar, Umesh Yadav, Navdeep Saini and Khaleel Ahmed. Remember, the likes of Ishant Sharma and Cheteswar Pujara have not been included in this team.
[The writer is a senior journalist based in Bhubaneswar]
[Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily represent that of the web portal]