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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Fostering the Future - India's Squad for New Zeland Series

The end of the long and frustrating season for Team India has come with a glamorous IPL studded with its own controversies and cameos. The side began the season with a memorable World Cup win and a dull IPL followed. India’s tour to West Indies and their return tour were partial success for the then champions. Soon India lost the crown to England enroute to a whitewash. This was followed by the whitewash in Australia and poor outputs in the CB Series and Asia Cup. Now that there is no international match for two months time is ripe to rest and reassess the performances. 

Indian test side has hit an all time low. The most trusted lieutenant in Dravid has called the day and two more Legends are at their fag end of their career. The promise in the batting front atleast gives some hope. The bowling attack looks awry and distraught. The Indian pacers seem to be nowhere in the horizon. Though Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron showed some promise, both have a long way before they can establish themselves. The two other frontline pacers Ishanth and Sreesanth are sidelined with injury.

At this juncture the next impeding series is at home against the New Zeland. The Kiwis are not in their best forms and are themselves looking for a mentor. Buchannan’s theories are driving them to ebb rather than the tide. So this offers India the best opportunity to experiment ahead of the tough series against the World No 1 England later this year.

With both Tendulkar and Laxman not in their best forms and approaching an end of their illustrious career, this series provides us a chance to try out the newer combinations that will define Team India in the forthcoming years. The first and best option would be to rest both the Legends. Though it comes with a heavy price of leaving out an experience of some 300 tests, it is still a test worth to be tried.

The team composition for the short two test series must begin with the selection of captain. Dhoni looks far from his best but one can’t blame him alone for the recent showings. With no good replacement available readymade, it is best to persist with Dhoni on trail for the first time in his career. He is also the best wicket keeper available and is more than handy batsman in the Indian conditions.

Coming to the opening front, the form of Sehwag and Gambhir in IPL has been heartening. Though one can’t assess the test side based on IPL returns, neither is a newbie to be worried about. Both seem to be in good touch and with the hope that they continue with the same vein, openers should be Sehwag and Gambhir. The third choice opener is not a must in the Home games since replacements can be called even at the last moment. However if the need maybe, Mukund can be called as a backup opener. Mukund deserves another chance given the way he has been performing over the few years.
The great headache of selecting a proper middle order comes in. If the selectors are brave enough to rest both the Big Two, the middle order will be the weakest in years for India. But this is the best possibility to test them. The Kiwis are unlikely to post much probing questions and the backyard is our Home turf. So the choices should be worth experimenting.
Rahane deserves a chance for all his years of hard work and consistency. He is sound and strong and can bat in at No 3 replacing the Great Wall. Rahane’s recent form has been good too and he seems to have mastered the ability to switch gears as and when needed. He can open the innings too in case one of the Delhi duo is indisposed. At No 4, my choice will be Rohit. Rohit Sharma for all his class and technique has been an under achiever all these years in the ODIs. Yet for a batsman of his quality, he is worth persisting with. Newer attire in Whites can kindle the fire in him and he has the game to withstand the rigours of five day cricket. Also at the place of the Master, it would be proper to have a batsman with strong ethic like Rohit.

At No 5, I ld have Chateshwar Pujara. He must have been a fixture in the Test squad had he not injured him in a freakish manner. Pujara is the best technician in the domestic circuit now and deserves a long run in the side. At No 5, he can establish himself as a vital cog. Coming to the important position of No 6, I ld love to drop in Virat Kohli. Kohli is the best Indian batsman post World Cup and is in the form of his life so far. He is a promise to behold and a saviour. However am playing him at No 6 because, we need someone who can hold the lower middle order together when the start is not great and go for quick runs if the top order has fired. Also the man must be able to guide the tail. No one looks better than Kohli.

In addition to the backup opener, a middle order batsman in reserve is needed. My choice will be Badrinath. Badri has for long been the kingpin of Indian domestic circuit and can be rightfully called the unluckiest batsman in the last decade. With just few years left, Badri can play at any spot from three to six and should be in the squad for some series atleast he establishes himself or India finds stability.

Wicket Keeper’s choice is obvious since Dhoni is unparalleled and unchallenged in this job as of now. He needs to get back his stride since more often than not, the future may look up at him to play a bigger role. He will not have the cosy comforts of bigger names to guard him in near future. Being a captain, his role is more important now than before. But knowing Dhoni one can expect him to do the needful when it matters. 

Coming to the bowling front, home game requires two spinners. Spin wardrobe in India is not in its best times. Ashwin and Ojha are the obvious choices. Neither of them is in great form but the conducive pitches at home can change the momentum in their favours. The choice of the backup spinner is much tougher. None of the incumbents seems to make a mark. Mishra and Chawla have been disappointing. Harbhajan seems to have lost his art and Rahul Sharma is untested. So among the available options, Mishra could be slotted in. He is known to perform in pitches that turn and has vast experience in Indian pitches. So Mishra is the best choice.

Finally the frustrating question of pace bowling arises. Ishanth and Sreesanth are ruled out owing injury. Zaheer can play if fit and make the attack pretty lethal single handed. But with World T20 approaching and impeding tour of England in November, it is better to rest Zaheer with Tendulkar and Laxman. The next options would be Umesh Yadav to spearhead the attack. Umesh has shown promise to be the pace head for the team and will have to play. Aaron is a raw talent and can be taken in if he is fit. If Aaron can form a decent pair with Umesh, India will be served better in a long way.
The selection of backup pacers is very important since both Aaron and Umesh are vulnerable. 

Especially Aaron is quite fragile and could break up any time. Hence the third choice seamer must be as good as the best. But there is no such option in the table. Mithun has been a work horse but the returns have been poor. Both Praveen and Vinay are more suited to the limited overs game given their lack of pace. The other option should be Dinda. He was at his best this season and provided he recovers from the injury sustained during IPL, Dinda must be the additional seamer. The final slot of fast bowler must be Pankaj Singh who had two good domestic seasons under his belt for Rajasthan.

Hence my squad will have seven batsmen, seven bowlers and Dhoni. The batting looks much promising. The pitches at Hyderabad and Bangalore are both batting friendly. So despite resting the experienced duo, the side can still perform well with the younger lot. Neither do the opposition have fire power enough to test us. So go with the future than the past.

Final Squad: M.S.Dhoni (C/WK), V.Sehwag, G.Gambhir (Openers), A.Rahane, Rohit Sharma, C.Pujara, V.Kohli, S.Badrinath (Middle Order), R.Ashwin, P.Ojha, A.Mishra (Spinners), U.Yadav, V.Aaron, Ashok Dinda, Pankaj Singh (Fast Bowlers). My First choice XI will see Badrinath, Dinda, Pankaj and Mishra as reserves. Let us hope that the Experiment Clicks! Good Luck Team India!!!

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