Has India Missed a Trick With Conservative World Cup Selection?
One look at MSK Prasad and you could make out that it was selection day. The chairman of India’s five-member Selection Committee is usually well turned out for selection committee meetings, and in recent times he has been the most ‘formal’ chief selector (Refer: Kris Srikkanth) to have held the post for India.
So, over the years, things have certainly moved from the casual to the formal, or should we say conservative?
Because that is certainly how this selection panel, headed by Prasad, has approached their most important task in recent times – of choosing India’s 2019 World Cup squad. The 15-man squad chosen today has conservatism written all over it. There is not a single choice who is left field or out of the box.
Playing it Too Safe?
Picking a very predictable team can usually means two things: Either the squad is well settled or the think-tank is not keen to rock the boat. In India’s case, it does seem like the latter would be more likely.
Most former players and experts had the same 12 names pencilled in without a debate when it came to putting down their World Cup XV. It was for the choice of the last three that the selectors and team management were expected to put on their thinking caps on.
It does seem like they have missed an opportunity to do something radical. So what if it was the World Cup squad, there is still an opportunity to do something out of the ordinary. The selection reflects the complete lack of planning from the panel.
Why Two Stumpers?
In a World Cup squad where there is already the chosen one MS Dhoni and a reserve handy ‘keeper in KL Rahul, why is there a need for another wicket-keeper in Dinesh Karthik? The reserve stumper is going to just warm the bench and come in only in the case of an untoward injury to Dhoni. The selectors have made clear that Karthik is in the squad only as a reserve wicket-keeper.
The only surprising thing that the selectors have done was that they dropped Rishabh Pant and went for Karthik. They picked experience over enterprise, but that was expected keeping with the theme of the day: Conservatism.
So in the worst case scenario unless something happens to Dhoni, Karthik has no role throughout the World Cup. It is just waste of a space. This place could have gone to a fourth seamer who could have come in handy at any given time during the tournament.
Reunion of Class of ’07
There are at least four-day gaps between India’s matches during the World Cup. Even if Dhoni was to miss out on a game, there was never going to be a danger of him having a longer lay off requiring for him to be replaced altogether. So why play safe and bring in a second wicket-keeper?
This is just plain conservatism.
Maybe because they wanted to reunite Dhoni and Karthik for one more World Cup, like in 2007! Remember this is Karthik’s first World Cup since 2007. So much has changed since then, and Dhoni and Karthik are the only survivors!
Not as Gifted as Others
India is not gifted like England to have two frontline wicket-keepers also doubling up as top-order batsmen. Both Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler make the starting XI, hence it makes sense for England to have both of them in the squad.
Most other squads too will not have opportunities like that except maybe Pakistan with Sarfaraz Ahmed and Mohammed Rizwan or New Zealand who have Tom Latham and Tom Blundell (uncapped).
No Pace Bowling Back-up
In the case of an off-day for India’s new-ball bowlers, you suddenly will have a situation where there is just one more reserve on the bench instead of two. You are going to have flat tracks throughout the World Cup, with scores in the region of 300 plus likely to be the norm. India needed strong bowling options to pick from in such cases and have definitely missed an opportunity here by instead going with an extra spinner in Ravindra Jadeja.
India wasted four years and did not develop an effective ODI back up pace bowling unit.
Now Saini, along with left-armer Khaleel Ahmed, will be part of the squad but purely as a net bowler and not as a playing member.
For close to two years now we have had a merry-go-round approach with the number four slot in batting and reserve pace bowling slots. A golden opportunity was missed in not throwing in an X-factor player into the mix.
Shankar’s Rise, Jadeja’s Comeback
The dumping of Ambati Rayudu was an expected move, considering the strides made by Vijay Shankar in the last few months. In fact it can now be revealed that Shankar had been told as early as the tour of England last year that he was in the reckoning. They had been planning to have both Shankar and Hardik Pandya as medium-paced all-rounders in the white-ball squads.
It just so happened that Shankar catapulted himself ahead in the race only on the India A tour of New Zealand in late 2018 when he played some match-winning knocks. His bowling still remains suspect, but he has been categorised as a batsman who can bowl, so there is no pressure.
For Ravindra Jadeja this is a complete turnaround in his white ball fortunes. Two years ago when India lost to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final, it did seem like India had moved away from Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin. But Jadeja’s bowling during the Asia Cup and his outstanding fielding clearly brought him back into the reckoning.
Still a Window Open
This selection can still be undone if the think-tank so desires before 23 May. The International Cricket Council (ICC) has given a window of opportunity for squads to be altered without reason till 23 May. It is only after that cut-off date that the technical committee of the World Cup needs to approve injury-forced selections.
Captain Kohli undoubtedly has a tough task on hand. The squad has been chosen with his consent and has his imprint in some cases too. It is going to be his toughest assignment yet. If he fails this time, there is bound to be a change in white ball captaincy for sure.