On Thursday, 17 days before the World Cup squad is to be announced, the Indian squad for the next two one-dayers was unveiled. Joginder Sharma, brought back from the wilderness of domestic cricket after three years, got one game at the top before being dumped. RP Singh, who did not get a look in at all, has also been dumped.
In their place, we have Yuvraj Singh, declared fully fit after his bizarre knee injury (suffered during an experimental kho-kho session in October) and Anil Kumble. The leg-spinner, once shunned for months on end as "unsuitable for one-dayers", is now, of course, being hailed as India’s secret weapon to tackle the conditions in the Caribbean.
And, oh yes, we have Irfan Pathan back as the 16th member of the squad for the fourth ODI in Vadodara. Pathan, unceremoniously sent back midway through the South African tour because of his lack of form, has, according to the selectors, "rediscovered his rhythm".
That begs a question — what exactly is happening with the Indian team? The team management/selection committee have obviously no idea of what their World Cup squad is like barring a few players, despite the fact that for the last two years, we have been told, ad nauseum, that everything and anything India have done has been with the World Cup in mind.
Under Chappell, India have fielded 30 players in 53 one-dayers so far. So how can you get constancy? Having said that, India fielded 31 players in the last 53 ODIs leading into the 2003 World Cup under John Wright. So, maybe there’s hope and a method to the madness, perhaps. However, now, while most other countries have a fair idea of their World Cup squads, India are still trying out their favourite hit-and-miss method.
Out of the 53 ODIs under Chappell , India have won 28 games, but if you remove the games played in the subcontinent, that winning percentage drops dramatically to 27.77.
Meanwhile, the experiments with players and positions continue, and again, the obvious question is, will these be continued into the Cup? Gautam Gambhir, while glad to be back, would be rightly peeved at not being picked for the South African one-dayers, especially when Wasim Jaffer, chosen ahead of him then, did not even make the list of 30 probables. What a complete waste of an opportunity, one that only ended up demoralising both players involved.
We had been hearing that plans were in place and in South Africa, we heard that some of these plans were misplaced because of the injury to Yuvraj. Granted that Yuvraj has been our best one-day batsman in the past couple of years, but how can everything fall apart because of an injury to one man? Even the worst plans have contingency measures.
Then again, where on earth are Md Kaif and Dinesh Mongia? Why have they been so badly dumped? Why do there seem to be two sets of rules for two different players? In the time under Chappell, Kaif has played 38 games, amassing 893 runs at an average of 33.07. Suresh Raina has played 35, getting 589 runs at 26.77. Raina apparently, has tremendous potential, Kaif, though, has a proven record.
Vitally, in the West Indies itself last summer, Kaif topped the batting averages with 205 runs in five games at 51.25. Raina had 69 runs in five ODIs at 17.25. And who was second on the leaderboard? A certain Mr Sehwag, with 237 in five games at an average of 47.40. Since then though, there were experiments, Kaif was moved in and out, Sehwag was moved up and down and now, both are out.
Meanwhile, only two out of three spinners selected will probably play in the third ODI. Logically, Kumble should play and Powar rested. Also, if Joginder and RP were to be dumped anyway (and they probably were not going to the Caribbean on the basis of a single performance anyway), why were two slots wasted on them? Why demoralise everyone, time and time again, even while playing around with the building of a core, fixed group?
There are too many questions that are as yet unanswered, as they have been for a while now. Unfortunately, India have also almost run out of time. Yes, they won their last two one-dayers, but they almost didn’t, despite scoring 338 on a flat track in Nagpur and in Cuttack, faced with a track that wasn’t a batter’s paradise, the top order fell apart as usual.
American football coach Steve Sloan once said: "The sun doesn’t shine on the same dog’s butt everyday but we sure didn’t expect a total eclipse". We didn’t expect miracles when Chappell took over but we sure didn’t expect a season that has seen us lose 12 games of 15 completed before this current series. Up ahead is the Cup — should we start praying for miracle?
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