Selection blues as the World Cup Cricket nears
Every sport in India has its issues to deal with. Like football now where a set of I-league teams are up in arms against the parent body, AIFF and are bent on giving the ongoing Super Cup tournament a decisive dent by boycotting the event. But what cricket is facing is an issue of riches. The ICC World Cup is nearing and for long have we been hearing of team preparations (read experimentations) and the likely bunch of talents who would shape up for this prestigious event to be held this time in England. Everything seemed going on course when came this sudden set back so to say in the form of this Australian home ODI series that has exposed the chinks in the Indian team's armoury! Like an aircraft that is all set to fly getting grounded at the last minute for technical issues, the Indian team management is apparently left to juggle again with the rich talent in hand to reset the team into an expected formidable one. All because of the 2-3 defeat that Australian meted out in the just concluded ODI series in what was a contest of huge turn around in fortunes.
Indeed who would have expected this after the remarkable time India had in Australia just prior to the current series. Kohli and Co had returned home holding their head high, quite deservedly and for the Selectors too it seemed all was going right in the run up to the World cup. The team was shaping up well and it seemed to them and even those who had been closely following the sport closely that what remained was only a touch up here or there. May be A for B or C for D etc. The core was ready was the pronounced verdict from everyone connected with the team, including skipper Virat Kohli himself. So when what seemed a struggling Australian squad landed in India, the feeling naturally was that the home side was ready to make another huge meal of the opponents. The way things began too was supportive of this belief. Of course the initial T20 defeats (Australia won both the matches) never seemed a point of concern as India went up 2-0 in the more pertinent five-match ODI.
Credit has to be given to Australia for what happened thereafter. A side so low on self belief, something that it has set out to disprove in India could succeed in doing that eventually and how! The transformation was dramatic. Everything fell in place. The swing of the bat lent purpose, the bowling gained teeth and the fielding could not have been sharper. Suffice to state, the Australians hardly took a wrong step from the third match onwards with everyone contributing and in the end it was the hunter who had become the hunted! India not only lost but threw up enough for the critics and others to talk of the ifs and buts of team's experimentations. Suddenly it would seem there are now more questions than answers where it was thought that by the end of the series, the team management would have all but sealed the squad for the WC. Now the box appears open with choices wider with ideas floating around and the dilemma remaining of who would be the best choice from indeed the best in hand!
For what has happened, the series has indeed come as a timely reminder that all is now well and some remedial steps were the need. Surely the one grey area seems to be the middle order which got exposed in the face of Ambati Rayudu and K.L. Rahul failing to click. Poor Rishabh Pant's inexperience did not do justice either. Besides, he only made many realise the value of M.S. Dhoni behind the wickets. Also has he in the process added to Dinesh Karthik's chances of coming in?! Dhoni in fact is also the right-handed man for Kohli on the field. In fact there was enough in the low performances for some former cricketers to threw in surprise choices. Like Dilip Vengsarkar seeking why dependable Ajinkya Rahane should not be fit in or Sourav Ganguly making a radical suggestion for picking up Cheteshwar Pujara. Pujara, who has never played many ODIs and was always thought of as a Test-man was as the former skipper believed, what Indian batting needed for solidity. Indeed there is,as of now, none to beat this man from Saurashtra for that job! Not that many fans thought Ganguly was serious in what he had said!
So even as the Australians have left Indian shores on a high in confidence to take on the Pakistanis in the Gulf for another set of ODIs, this much is clear, the trip to India has proved an awakening for this defending World champion. Not only did the series in India help the team to find a modicum of order in their approach to the big challenge ahead but the performances overall must have gladdened the team management as the big moment in England nears. Having seen off the best of Indian bowling already, the Australians have done their home work well while leaving the home team in a quandary.
There is still time and of course there is the glamour event of IPL to follow for more action for the players. The need is to ensure an injury-free time for here too the demands are plenty and almost all the India probables would be on view. So the last word on the team's final look can still wait but will there be surprises, that is the big question. At least for that sake excitement will mount for the fans, impatience too!