Sunday, December 9, 2012

Over to the selectors..

As I write this, Ojha has been bowled by Anderson and India have folded for 247, giving England the third test on a platter and a 2-1 lead in the series. It was, quite ridiculously, called the badla series by the media (the ESPNStar ads with the 'pungi bajao' chant were shocking to say the least - they were also giving 'pungis' at the Wankhede, causing quite a racket) and it has all crashed down in a heap. All India can hope now is to draw the series 2-2, but given the record at Nagpur (generally a flat track) it is difficult to see that happening, since on a flat track, it is the bowling that wins you the match (on most tracks actually !) and England are streets ahead as far as bowling is concerned. But before the teams get to the Orange city, there is the small matter of Sandeep Patil and co. meeting to decide the squad for that game. And it is he, along with his four colleagues, who would be watched most closely in Kolkata today. It is to him that the Indian cricket fan will look at, looking for signs of a fresh direction to Indian test cricket. Will he deliver ?
Patil and co. have many issues to start off with. Firstly, I believe, they should start with the captain. Since the World Cup victory, Mahendra Singh Dhoni now has a record of 1-10 against England and Australia and in most cases, the captain would have been shown the door. But in India, the TINA option is now possibly keeping Dhoni's case alive. But I feel that Nagpur should be Dhoni's last test match in charge. He is still a fantastic ODI and T20 player and should be kept fresh for those formats, possibly leading up to the World Cup defence in 2015. His test match record as a batsman is not the best recently. An average of 29 in 19 test since the start of 2011 is less than what is expected from a wicket-keeper in this day and age. Dhoni himself had earlier talked about quitting one format of the game in 2013, and maybe this is time for him to walk the talk. Australia come here only in February, and Patil should identify the next captain immediately. But who are the choices ? Gambhir was earlier marked out as a leader, but his performances (and his running) have clearly not advanced his case. From the younger lot, Kohli is the front runner. He has had a quiet series, but his record this year and the age on his side means he can be looked as a long-term option. The question is whether Kohli has the temperament and diplomacy that an Indian captain needs to have. But if he is the man for India, then makes sense to give him three months to prepare for that role. I am not a fan of a stop-gap captain because India has important test series coming up starting late 2013 (tours to South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia in the space of 15 months). So who-ever is the next Indian test captain, he should be given an extended run.
The next question pertains to the bowling. Zaheer Khan has been the leader of the pack for few years now, but at 34 years 2 months, he needs to take a call on his future. His last 11 tests has given him 28 wickets at 37 apiece (overall average: 32). In India, he averages 56 in his last 5 tests. England have shown how the reverse swinging ball (at pace) can cause damage, and maybe the reverse swing is not working for Zak now. Ishant's always has been a stop-start-stop career. In fact, it is surprising to note that he has actually played 46 tests, since it feels like that spell to Ponting at Perth was day before yesterday. Unfortunately, his career has hardly progressed since then. He might still make it to South Africa and onwards next year, but he needs to be put on notice. Umesh Yadav's injuries is a big cause for concern, since he is by far our brightest prospect. His injury management needs to be put on highest priority by the team management, since he is probably the only one amongst the current lot who can consistently clock 145 kph. He would be critical come 2013-14. Coming to the spinners, Ojha has been good throughout the England series and is now the frontline spinner. Ashwin will make the side (his batting surely helps !) and we need a third tweaker.
I spoke about the bowling first since the batting, to me, is lesser of a worry since India have always had young batsmen waiting in the wings. Rahane should find himself in the playing XI soon (maybe at Nagpur itself) and you still have Manoj Tiwary and Murali Vijay in the wings. And do not forget that for all the brouhaha about his batting, Rohit Sharma is yet to make his test debut. Maybe the responsibility of five days of tough cricket reins in his obvious talent. It would be a shame if he is not given opportunities in test match cricket. Finally, no discussion on the team is complete without a reference to that 39 year old ! That is a tricky situation with Patil and co. One thing is dead sure (and even his harshest critics would agree), the man deserves a farewell like no other ! It would be a tragedy if he announces his retirement after the Nagpur test. So if that discussion has happened, Indian cricket fans deserve to know it today. Else, he is better off preparing for the Australian series by playing for Mumbai in the Ranji trophy.
Finally, here are my squads for Nagpur and against Australia:
Nagpur playing XI: Sehwag, Gambhir, Pujara, SRT, Kohli, Rahane, MS Dhoni (C), Ashwin, Ojha, Zaheer, Ishant/Bhuvneshwar Kumar
pool for the Australian series: Sehwag, Gambhir, Murali Vijay, Rahane, Pujara, Kohli (C), Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, Parthiv Patel, Umesh Yadav, Parwinder Awana, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Irfan Pathan, Ojha, Ashwin, <a leg spinner???>
over to you Mr. Patil !!!

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