What does Rishi Dhawan need to do to play for Team India?
With 49 wickets in his kitty, Rishi Dhawan, a fast bowling all-rounder who opens the bowling for Himachal, was the leading wicket-taker in the last Ranji season (2013-14) and got the Madhavrao Scindia Award for this feat. Batting at number 6, he'd also scored 435 runs in that season.
Parvez Rasool, Jammu & Kashmir’s off-spinning all-rounder, made 663 runs, took 27 wickets and got the best all-rounder (Lala Amarnath) award in the same season. Rishi Dhawan, thus, would have had a fair chance at the best all-rounder award, too. The other players who won awards were R Vinay Kumar (best all-rounder in the limited overs tournament) and Kedar Jadhav (highest run-scorer), and they are in the national scheme of things.
If performance is the only criterion, Rishi should make it to the Indian team purely as a bowler. But, wait, he can also bat.
Rishi the batsman
In the India A match against Australia A, Rishi batted at number 7, ahead of Akshar Patel – the same Akshar Patel who's a strong contender for an all-rounder’s spot in the final 15 for the World Cup 2015. In that match, Rishi made a match-winning 56 not out, while Akshar supported him ably with a 45 not out.
In the Duleep Trophy’s North Zone v East Zone match held on November 30, Rishi batted at number 6, ahead of Rasool.
Rishi began his career as an opening batsman, scoring 338 runs in the Cooch Behar Under-19 Trophy, and he was the Under-19 Cricketer of the Year at the BCCI Awards in 2008. During the IPL 2014 Auctions, Rishi’s 49 wickets and 435 runs goaded Kings XI Punjab into buying him for Rs. 3 crore – making him the second most expensive uncapped player in the league after Sunrisers Hyderabad's Karn Sharma.
Oh, yes, the same Karn Sharma who’s now in the Indian Test squad in Australia.
When the IPL teams released a bucketful of players recently, Kings XI didn’t do away with Rishi. In their eyes, Rishi is worth the Rs. 3 crore that they spent. And though Rishi’s performances in the IPL haven’t been extraordinary, they’ve definitely been very satisfying. In IPL 2014, Rishi took 13 wickets in 13 matches. His economy rate was 7.71. His bowling average was 28.07.
Not only this, Rishi also has a mature head on his young shoulders; he captained the Himachal Pradesh Ranji side in 2013-14. His positive attitude and approach towards the game have drawn praise from former HP coach Rajdeed Kalsi, former Indian leg-spinner Sairaj Bahutule and many others.
The ‘he bowls on supportive wickets’ logic doesn’t hold water
Are we just resting on the past laurels here – the 2013-14 Ranji and the 2014 IPL? No! This season, in the last two innings, Rishi has taken two 5-wicket hauls. In his first-class career, he averages 39 with the bat.
Is he a dibbly-dobbly bowler like a Stuart Binny? No! While Rishi is not an outright fast bowler, he bowls at high 120s and low 130s. Very much like a Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Rishi opens the bowling, and swing is his most potent weapon.
Many say that he plays in the weak Group C of the Ranji Trophy, and which is the reason for his strong returns. But the confidence shown by the IPL teams in bidding for him, and the trust shown by the North Zone and the India A teams in making him bat ahead of Axar and Rasool tell us that this assertion doesn’t hold weight.
It is also said that he gets most of his wickets in Dharamshala, his home ground, which happens to be a green-top. This, too, is a weak argument.
Dharamshala is an international cricket ground where the pitch can’t be so venomous as to allow any Tom, Dick and Binny to take 5-wicket hauls. In two ODIs played there (vs England on January 27, 2013 and vs West Indies on October 17, 2014), none of the Indian bowlers took more than two wickets! Tim Bresnan took four for England including those of batsmen number 9 and 10.
Also, Rishi has to bat a lot at the same venue. If you still take points out of his bowling by claiming that he gets ‘wickets on a green-top’, those points have to be added to his batting by turning the argument around; he scores ‘runs on a green-top’.
7 spinners, but only 1 seam bowling all-rounder in 30-man squad?
Rasool, Vinay, Kedar Jadhav, Axar, Karn and Binny: Rishi has performed as well, if not better, than these players. He’s also rubbed shoulders with the IPL stalwarts and delivered on the field. The 24-year-old must be cursing his luck for not having made the final cut.
In a team that's desperate for fast bowling all-rounders, a team that’s going to play the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Rishi sure seems to fit the bill. His claims have been backed by trusted voices in Indian cricket, including that of Harsha Bhogle.
So why hasn't he been picked? What is bewildering is the fact that in a squad of 30 probables for the World Cup, there are four reserve wicket-keepers (Wriddhiman Saha, Robin Uthappa, Ambati Rayudu and Sanju Samson), four spin bowling all-rounders (Jadeja, Axar, Rasool and Ashwin), three spinners (Karn, Amit Mishra and Kuldeep Yadav), but just one seam-up all-rounder (Binny).
Do we really need seven spin bowling options for a tournament that’s going to be played in Australia and New Zealand? Shouldn’t Rishi have found a place at least in the 30?
The questions mount, but the answers are nowhere to be found.