Saturday, February 1, 2014

World Cup defence looking shaky..

With just over a year to go before the ICC Cricket World Cup kicks off Down Under, the defending champions are appearing to be in deep disarray. Their last 8 ODIs away from home have resulted in 6 defeats, 1 tie and 1 abandoned match. Conceding 300+ runs while bowling first has almost become a given for their bowlers and while chasing, the opening combination has not exactly given them a blazing start, leaving too much for the middle order to do. The captain MS Dhoni strangely, has preferred to chase 4 out of the 5 times he won the toss in New Zealand, putting further pressure on his bowlers and batsman both ! And while the team looks settled now, one does not get the feeling that these would be the eleven men that will step on the Adelaide Oval on February 15 next year to take on arch-rivals Pakistan in their title defence.
An added problem for team India is that time is running now. For the next year or so, India (for a change) have a very test-match heavy schedule. Apart from the upcoming ODIs at the Asia Cup, India will get about 5 ODIs each in England and Australia in order to fine-tune their game before the World Cup. And clearly, 10 games seems too less, especially when you not won any of your last 8 matches !
So where does team India start ! The opening combination needs to be looked at. Dhawan and Rohit were looking great in England last year and in those run-feasts at home against Australia, but both of them are strokemakers and are not able to rotate the strike, especially in the early overs. And when the asking rate creeps up, the mistake occurs. Maybe there is still more than a ray of hope for Gautam Gambhir, who is pretty good at those taps and nudges for the singles. Numbers 3 and 4 in my opinion, have to be Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni. The two best batsmen have to occupy those 2 positions, simple. The next 2 positions are the big problems for India. Yuvraj, Raina, Rahane, Rayadu have all staked claims for these spots, but none of them appears a certainty at this time. There is a general consensus that Pujara has to now be part of the XI now, but I do not see a role for him at No. 5 and 6. Maybe he can be tried out at the openers slot (with Rohit possibly at No. 5). If the net is cast further, one can think of Kedar Jadhav from Maharashtra ( 1223 runs this Ranji season at the strike rate of 80 !). Next come the all-rounders. Very important to have a couple of them, especially in Australia. Jadeja looks a certainty, but Stuart Binny got only one game, sorry, only one over in which to impress !! Maybe the selectors could have also tried out Rishi Dhawan after his fantastic season with bat and ball in the Ranji Trophy. It is essential that Nos. 6 and 7 be able to bowl 12 decent overs between them on any day and also contribute meaningfully with the bat. That will add an extra edge to any team in the World Cup.
And finally the bowling. Ashwin has been lackluster of late, and he might just see Harbhajan Singh making a comeback at his expense. His experience might be essential in a big tournament, and if he figures the selector's scheme of things, then he needs to be in the squad for the Asia Cup. And then are the pacers, another vital element on the tracks down under, and where India find themselves severely short. Bhuvneshwar will not be half as effective if there is no swing, which is likely the case at the World Cup. Varun Aaron has shown some pace, but needs to be given more chances to establish himself. And wonder what happened to Umesh Yadav ? There is also some talk of Zaheer coming back in the one day setup, but with his dodgy fitness and lack of fielding ability, he remains a risky proposition. 

All in all, there is a lot of work in front of Dhoni, the team and the selectors in the next 12 months if we are to be seen as one of the top contenders at the World Cup. Till then, here is my squad for the Asia Cup:

Dhawan, Gambhir, Kohli, Rohit, Pujara, Dhoni, Rahane, Jadeja, Binny, Harbhajan, Mishra, Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar, Aaron.

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