World Cup team selection in a country where cricket is a religion is an unenviable job. This time the job of the five wise men of the selection committee was relatively simple as most of the players selected themselves.
Only two positions were up for grabs–the No.4 batting slot and the second wicket keeper spot.
The selectors met for over an hour in Mumbai to discuss and deliberate on the two vacant slots for the England-bound squad.
Till a few months ago, Ambati Rayadu was the clear front runner for the No.4 slot. He is experienced and was consistent at the crucial position.
But owing to a sudden loss of form, his struggle to score became visible during India’s 2-3 ODI series loss at home to Australia just prior to the Indian Premier League (IPL), which quickly ruled him out of contention.
That led to the tabling of various permutations and combinations by the selectors. The names of KL Rahul—in hot form in the ongoing IPL—all-rounder Vijay Shankar or a “floater”, and even MS Dhoni cropped up as possible choices.
My argument, which I alluded to in my last column, was that we have only one genuine left-hander in our team, i.e., Shikhar Dhawan.
Left-handers have played a predominant role in the World Cup throughout its history. The mighty West Indies (winners in the inaugural 1975 edition and also four years later) had four at one point in time—opener Roy Fredericks, the classy Alvin Kallicharran at No.5, skipper Clive Llyod at No.6 and “floater” Larry Gomes.
In the 2011 World Cup winning team, India had three left-hand batsmen in Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina.
In the 1996 World Cup winning Sri Lankan team there were four left-hand batsmen in Sanath Jayasuriya, skipper Arjuna Ranatunga, Asanka Gurusinha and Hashan Tillak
aratne. Teams for 2019 World Cup are being announced and one finds every team having three to four southpaws.
Our tragedy is we couldn’t find a genuine left-hander fit to play in the middle-order. Natural stroke maker Pant could have been picked purely as a batsman and employed as a “pinch hitter”, the term used during Greg Chappell’s tenure, when Irfan Pathan was given a “license to hit”.
The strategy worked as he was a lefty, and bowlers found it difficult to negotiate the angles created by an aggressive southpaw.
What undoubtedly went against Pant was his suspect keeping, which shows no signs of improving. His two errors in the Mohali ODI to let off Ashton Taylor cost India the match.
Anybody can have a bad day in office. But Pant’s errors have been too frequent. If Pant was chosen as a batsman and Dinesh Karthik as a wicketkeeper then Shankar would have missed the cut.
Apart from batting, Shankar has other useful qualities. In English conditions he could be a handy bowler for 5-6 overs as he moves the ball. His bowling in recent ODIs has been decent, fielding being another plus. He fits in the all-rounder mould, like Hardik Pandya. Thus the fight was directly between Pant and Shankar.
Having kept wickets all his life, Pant is unconvincing as an outfielder. He continues to keep wickets with poor footwork and glove work. World Cup isn’t a place to experiment. Players who have played in England ought to get preference and experienced ODI players should always be preferred during selection.
Thus the selectors had no choice but to pick Karthik, who has been around the scene for over a decade. Returning to the WC squad after 12 years, his perseverance and hunger to improve, which must have impressed the selectors, have paid off.
In close selection calls, the skipper’s veto power become important. Virat Kohli was in the meeting and must have aired his views.
In 1971 a similar situation arose when the experienced Chandu Borde and the talented Dilip Sardesai were jostling for a single slot. The then selection committee chief Vijay Merchant asked for skipper Ajit Wadekar’s opinion.
Wadekar wanted Sardesai, who later single-handedly helped India win their first series in the West Indies, becoming “the Renaissance man of Indian cricket”.
In 1967 skipper Tiger Pataudi opted for M.L. Jaisimha in place of injured B.S. Chandrashekhar and for the 1988 West Indies tour skipper Dilip Vengsarkar picked Sanjay Manjrekar as the 16th man. Are we to believe Kohli had no say in deciding who to pick between Pant and Karthik?
— KolkataKnightRiders (@KKRiders) April 15, 2019
Often our arguments are based on T20 performances but T20 is a 120-ball game whereas ODIs are 300-ball contests.
In 50-over games, the middle overs (15 to 35-40) have to be utilised properly. Rotating strike and being calculative are two key components that a middle-order batsman should have.
Keeping the squad’s composition aside, strategy management would be crucial as the English weather is a fickle mistress. The white ball hardly moves, hence bowling the ideal line and length would be key.
Keeping all the complexities in mind, the selectors have done an excellent job. They had to take harsh decisions and drop somebody.
Now over to the boys for delivering on the field.