On Monday, the Indian selectors announced the 15-man squad traveling to England for the 2017 Champions Trophy to defend their 50-over title. Led by chief selector MSK Prasad, the team was the last out of all the countries to be announced, given that the BCCI only gave the go-ahead over the weekend after extended negotiations with the ICC.
Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav
More importantly, the five players announced as ‘standby’:
Suresh Raina, Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik, Kuldeep Yadav, Shardul Thakur
The selectors, for once, haven’t gotten swayed by the glamorous Indian T20 League performances. Instead, they have focused on the fact that this ODI tournament is a different format, and will be played in English conditions, where experience and a season-long domestic performance are the criteria. Most of them have been selected on basis of their recent ODI record, not their T20 exploits or sudden bursts to form. It’s also encouraging that the ‘standby’ players have been announced officially (this has never been done before), a move that acknowledges their status and that they are well in team plans for the near future. This security eases the disappointment, especially for youngsters like Rishabh Pant, and consistent domestic performers like Shardul Thakur, who may have felt shortchanged if their names weren’t mentioned at all. This “analysis” style of naming a squad is a good idea, giving the requisite nods and pushes to even the players who don’t make it for a particular tournament.
The fast bowling line-up is India’s best possible. If Shami and Yadav remain fit, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s swing option depending on the venue and Bumrah’s death bowling, this could well be the most balance we’ve had in years. A rarity, indeed!
It’s one thing to bank on experience, and another altogether to let safeness and predictability define your decisions. The 2013 tournament was won with a new opening combination (now, not so new) and a risky team in overseas conditions. The squad this time emits vibes of the doomed 2007 World Cup squad – where age, safety and big-match experience were counted on. We all know how that ended. If India does not do well in June, the aftermath could well see a clean sweep-out of all experience and older legs. This isn’t such a bad thing, but why use such a big tournament to put into task such a possibility?
England may have hoodwinked India in the ODI series here in January. They lost the series, and allowed MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh to clock back the years in one of the games. Both scored centuries, and virtually sealed their spot for the rest of the year – irrespective of their T20 form. Now the two will carry the middle order in a tournament that may require more than ‘pacing’ and ‘rebuilding’ between the 20th and 40th over. The current English and Australian teams thrive on big-hitting and relentless attack even in this phase – and India’s approach under a struggling Dhoni and a hot-and-cold Yuvraj could be outdated. Kedar Jadhav’s form is crucial at no. 4, as is Manish Pandey’s if he’s asked to replace Yuvraj in the middle order. These two have a lot more to prove, and look in better touch too.
Prasad stated that Dhoni is still the best wicketkeeper in the world. There’s no doubt about that. He is the best glovesman by far. But these days, teams need more than just ‘specialist’ keepers. Now that he is not the captain, he has to do more than just keep and make decisions behind stumps. He has to bat well – something he hasn’t been doing for two seasons now. A few odd games aside, Dhoni has struggled to accelerate consistently, and his patchy form could well mean the difference between a 270 and 300 abroad – where a lot of pressure could come upon hitters like Hardik Pandya.
With no other big-hitting options in the batting order, and with Virat Kohli woefully out of form and energy (one hopes this will change in England), India needed the belligerence and reckless youth of Rishabh Pant at the top. Everyone else wants to guide the innings and be the anchor. To bank on Dhawan just because of his 2013 performance could be a mistake, and Rahane’s form has been awful in all formats. Perhaps the resourcefulness of Dinesh Karthik would have been appropriate for a line-up that often struggles for momentum after the departure of Kohli and Sharma.
No wrist spinner – despite the fantastic recent performances by Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav and old-is-gold Amit Mishra – could hamper India’s wicket-taking options. Ashwin isn’t the greatest in this format, and Jadeja keeps down the runs. The part-time spin options of Jadhav and Yuvraj can’t contribute more than five overs.
IDEAL PLAYING XI:
Rohit, Pant, Kohli, Pandey, Jadhav, Yuvraj/Karthik, Hardik, Jadeja, Kuldeep/Shami, Bhuvneshwar/Umesh, Bumrah