ICC World Cup 2019: Indian Squad Review
The long anticipation for the GOT lovers finally ended, when the last season of the fantasy drama television series aired on 14th April 2019. However, a day later, more drama (albeit of a different kind) unfolded in the selection committee meeting for India's World Cup squad.
MSK Prasad-led selection committee disappointed quite a few die-hard cricket fans, as they took some harsh decisions and omitted some popular players from the World Cup squad. No wonder there was criticism from all quarters as cricket analysts were up in arms against the selection.
World Cup Squad: India - Virat Kohl(C), Rohit Sharma (VC) Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Vijay Shankar, MS Dhoni (wicket keeper), Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Y. Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami.
Let's now review India's 15-man squad for the World Cup.
India's top 3 has been sending tremors through the opposition camps for the past few years. Such has been the extent of their dominance in international cricket, that they are already drawing comparisons with some all-time-great top 3 like Hayden-Gilchrist-Ponting or, Haynes-Greenidge-Viv Richards.
Rohit Sharma is the kind of player who initially takes time to settle and prefers to play the long innings. Dhawan, being an impact player, allows Rohit the extra time to settle into his game by taking the attack to the opposition at the beginning of the innings. At the fall of the wicket arrives Mr. Consistent Virat Kohli. More often than not, either Kohli or Rohit go on to get a big score, thus anchoring the innings and taking India to a strong score. This has been the standard template of India's success in limited overs cricket, since ICC Champions Trophy 2013.
The only real backup that was available to the selectors for the top 3 spots is KL Rahul. There can be debates regarding the omission of Rahane, but Jinx failed to cash-in on the chances provided to him in the limited-overs setup in the past 18 months. Thus, the selectors may not have even considered him for the final 15 of the World Cup.
MS Dhoni, the legend is playing his last 50 over World Cup. With his tactical acumen and matured shrewd batting skills, he is an invaluable player to the squad. His guidance and mentorship to the young tweakers from behind the stumps only adds onto the intangible benefits that the old warhorse brings to the side.
Kedar Jadhav has been pretty good in the last few years, with his frequent little cameos down the order and the occasional long innings. His bowling, though underrated, is good enough to do the job of the 6th bowling option for the captain. However, his participation in the World Cup is in doubt at the time of writing due to the injury he suffered during the latter stages of the IPL.
Since the Asia Cup, where Hardik injured his lower back, India has found out through a lot of experimentation that there is no like for like replacement for Hardik Pandya. A hard-hitting batsman, who can crank up 140 kmph is a rare talent in Indian cricket and considering his recent IPL form, he has the potential to impact big matches with his all-round skills.
Ravindra Jadeja's selection in the squad is as a backup to both Pandya and Chahal. Chahal is struggling to pick up regular wickets over the past 6-7 months. If the trend continues in England, India may well consider replacing him with Jadeja in the first XI. This would add some firepower to the lower middle order as well, and save 10-15 runs in the outfield.
Mohammed Shami is the real breakthrough selection in the bowler's section. He was not even in contention for the Indian limited overs setup until the beginning of 2019. Then, the much debated 'yo-yo' test happened. That meant Shami had to improve his fitness standards in order to be eligible for selection. He worked hard, lost weight and became a different limited-overs bowler thereafter. His run-up speed, line, length, and consistency improved and soon he made an impactful comeback in colored clothing for India.
Shami's rise in Indian cricket coincided with the decline of Bhuvneshwar Kumar. From contesting with Bumrah for the top pacer's spot in the Indian team, the latter's form and pace went downhill drastically, owing to a chronic back injury. His yorkers and slower balls became less and less effective as a consequence. In less than 6 month time, Bhuvi found himself relegated to being the 3rd seamer of the side, with Bumrah and Shami being the first choice pacers for the Indian team.
Not much to say about Jasprit Bumrah. The pace sensation who has owned the world stage with his express pace and accuracy for the past few years. There are hardly any pacers in the world presently who can match Bumrah and thus, for obvious reasons, he is the undisputed leader of India's pace attack.
Since the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 final debacle, India's new found love for wrist spin means that the duo of Kuldeep and Chahal easily make it to the top 15. However, whether both of them will feature together in the playing XI remains a matter of contemplation, as such a move will significantly weaken the lower-order batting for India.
Vijay Shankar vs Ambati Rayudu
India's love for "3D" skills in ICC tournaments existed long before MSK Prasad & Ambati Rayudu made the term trend in social media. A look back at the 2003 World Cup squad selection for India will evoke memories of another similar controversy regarding another famous Hyderabadi right-hander. 16 years ago, it was the “Very Very Special” Laxman, who had to make way for Dinesh Mongia in the 2003 World Cup Squad.
VVS Laxman was having one of his most successful years in limited overs cricket leading up to the 2003 cricket World Cup. He had scored 613 runs at a decent average of 30.65 in 21 matches in 2002. Yet Ganguly picked Mongia ahead of Laxman in the final 15 because he preferred to have Mongia's extra dimension of part-time left-arm spin. However, years later, Ganguly himself went on record to say not picking Laxman for the 2003 World Cup was a mistake.
To be honest, there are 2 factors that contributed to Rayudu's elimination from the squad. Rayudu has been consistent for India since he was handed the No. 4 position in Asia Cup 2018. However, the majority of his success has a batsman came against finger spinners and hit-the-deck kind of bowlers. He looked at sea against sharp inswing of Jhye Richardson and quality wrist spin of Zampa in the recently concluded Australia series. With Starc, Boult, Rabada, Roach in the opposition ranks, India could not afford their No.4 to be susceptible against swing bowling.
The second factor that actually worked in Shankar's favor is his ability to deliver 5-6 overs per match. The team management probably feels that Kedar won't be a potent 6th bowling option on the flat decks of England. Jadhav's bowling is more effective on the dry Asian pitches, where the ball grips after pitching. So the team management opted for Vijay Shankar, who can chip in with a few overs, in case one of the regular bowlers has a bad day.
Dinesh Karthik vs Rishabh Pant
MSK Prasad did not give a satisfactory explanation in the press conference where he stated that Karthik was preferred over Pant because the former is a better keeper than the latter. Rishabh Pant has been preferred over Karthik time & again in Test matches, which reinforces the belief of the selectors in Pant's keeping skills.
So, it is highly possible that the team management wanted more than just a backup of Dhoni from their second wicketkeeper. India has failed to find a consistent no. 4 over the last couple of years. As a result, they are going in with Vijay Shankar as their No. 4 – a player who has never batted at that position even for his state side Tamil Nadu. On top of that, as stated previously, on the flat English pitches, Kedar Jadhav's bowling might turn out to be ineffective against top international batsmen. In that case, can Kedar continue to retain his position in the team, just as a batsman? That does remain a matter of consideration.
The selectors wanted someone in the team who could be a probable backup to both Shankar and Jadhav. Rishabh Pant is a wonderful player with loads of talent, but he is a player who blossoms only when he gets a permanent place in the playing XI consistently. Karthik, on the other hand, has played as a floater all his career and can comfortably play at 4 or 6, as and when the team needs him to.
What awaits now?
This is the most balanced Indian teams that India could have sent to the World Cup. If India plays both Shankar and Jadhav in the first XI, they necessarily walk into the field with 7 bowling options - an absolute luxury to have in ICC tournaments.
India's bowling is at its peak as well. Bumrah, Shami, Chahal & Kuldeep are proven match-winners, on their days. Add to that, the famed India batting line up and we have a team, which has the potential to make it to the finals of the 2019 Cricket World Cup.