There is not much time left before India embark on their World Cup campaign and, according to skipper Rahul Dravid, the team management is apparently doing its best to find the right balance in this preparatory series, even while keeping everyone on their toes.
Perhaps, if this fact is kept in mind, Dravid’s announcement of the team composition on Friday might seem less bewildering. But despite that, resting an in-form Sourav Ganguly, Zaheer Khan, MS Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh in what amounts to a crucial game such as this third one-dayer in Chennai on Saturday, is bound to raise eyebrows.
But Dravid on Friday strongly rebutted the assumption that the think-tank is still experimenting at the cost of results. "Results are very important and we want to win this one too," asserted Dravid, who also confirmed his opening batsmen for the day-nighter.
Dravid’s statemate Robin Uthappa, who’s scored heavily in domestic cricket this season, will get another opportunity at the top - at the cost of Ganguly, while Suresh Raina will get yet another chance to show he has what it takes at this level.
Keeping out Ganguly, who has played only two one-dayers since his return to one-dayers, does seem somewhat strange and Dravid was naturally quizzed on how players being rested felt about his decision. He took the time to explain the rationale and added, perhaps tellingly, "it is an emotional time for Sourav".
Coming to the bowling, while Zaheer’s being rested makes sense, he has had a long season and has made a very good comeback, Harbhajan’s makes less. After all, he has hardly played in the recent past, what with his being a passenger throughout the South Africa Tests and logically, he would need as many games as possible.
But their being rested is significant in another sense.
With both Joginder Sharma and RP Singh axed, and Irfan Pathan joining the team only for the last ODI in Baroda, India appear to be a bowler short. Agarkar, Sreesanth, Kumble and Powar are the only ones available and if Dravid’s expectations of the wicket, which he expects to be placid, are true, then there is cause for worry.
Firstly, someone will have to fill in as a fifth bowler and with no Sehwag or Ganguly, and Yuvraj making a comeback from injury, it’ll be left to Tendulkar, who’s already struggling with the bat, to more than do his bit with the ball too.
That apart, if the mainstream pacemen, Sreesanth and Agarkar, do badly, like on the belter in Nagpur, then India could be in real mess. In that case, the only saving grace will be the unavailability of Brian Lara, whose feet looked a bit frozen at nets on Friday.
His availability will be known only on Saturday morning. "I'll see how I go about in the nets and then, if things are fine by night time I will play," said Lara.
Of course, his side too has been having problems, with the team depending heavily on Shivnarine Chanderpaul and, to an extent, on Chris Gayle and the skipper, but the others have shown glimpses of form and perhaps a long stay at the crease will see a change.
For India, there has been another worry. In the absence of Yuvraj Singh, the team has looked a bit brittle in the middle-order. They seem to need real belters if they have to score. But that unfortunately may not be the case in the Caribbean where, as Dravid himself said, the wickets will vary from place to place.
So, in that case, a solid and confirmed No 4, 5 and 6, something that has rarely been seen since the 2006 ODI series in West Indies, will be required.