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Ahead of WC, India down to last five

The world's richest cricket team is probably also the only one that still doesn't know who and what it will take to the World Cup, writes Atreyo Mukhopadhyay.
None | By Atreyo Mukhopadhyay, Cuttack
UPDATED ON JAN 25, 2007 01:43 PM IST

The process that started well over a year ago is still not over. When it started, the people concerned kept insisting results were not important, the way they were achieved was. That results were important started becoming clear when the team started losing and those not deemed fit for the process had to be called back.

As a consequence, the world's richest cricket team is probably also the only one that still doesn't know who and what it will take to the World Cup. That it has got just five more matches in conditions not known to encourage fair contests in one-day cricket to pick the best possible 15 (the Cup selection is on February11) shows how people who plan have handled this.

With the opening combination, middle-order line-up and the pace attack all clouded in uncertainty, the second ODI between India and the West Indies on Wednesday might see a spin to the tale. Rahul Dravid felt the pitch was “dry and may also be low and slow”, adding that Ramesh Powar was likely to strengthen the spin department.

If it happens, it will purely be a horses-for-courses move but it will also put India's plans in a new quandary. Having opted for seven batsmen (wicketkeepers included), three medium-pacers and one spinner in the first match, they have left out Suresh Raina, bringing Powar and Joginder Sharma into the XII.

If Sharma plays his fourth ODI more than two years after his third on the strength of his batting skills to go with his gentle medium-pace, then as Dravid said, S Sreesanth will be out. Given that Andre Nel’s nemesis happened to be a key man in the attack till very recently, it doesn't say great things about the planning commission.

The visitors too have a few selection problems, though forced by injuries. Brian Lara is out with a knee niggle, while Dwayne Bravo is uncertain with a hip strain. This increases possibilities of a maiden international cap for Trinidadian allrounder Rayad Emrit.

Lara's non-availability means added responsibility for Chris Gayle - who will lead the side for the first time -- and Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the absence of Ramnaresh Sarwan who is skipping the tour to recharge himself. It would also be a chance for Morton, Samuels and Smith to show it has been worth having them around for a fair amount of time instead of too many experiments.

This difference in approach between the teams appears larger than what it should have ahead of a match where the dew can upset a few plans. While that would be beyond the control of everyone, the Indians would like to believe they still have the time to bring under control things that show a tendency to slip away every now and then.

A win is the best remedy an ailing team can have. And if it comes after a commanding performance with the bat — leave out the bowling because the Nagpur shirtfront was not what bowlers should be judged by — it could work wonders for the confidence of a side that was struggling to last 50 overs since the second ODI against the Windies in Jamaica in May.

More than Sourav Ganguly's continuation of what has been a kind of comeback only he believed was possible, India's biggest gain from the 14-run win was the fact that they started well, consolidated and finished with a bang while batting. That the pitch played a significant role is something they would remember without letting it take the credit away.

Another plus for a team that has to depend on some of its batsmen to chip in with a few overs from that game was Tendulkar's 10-over spell. It proved crucial too and for people trying to maximise options there was one. He always enjoys bowling and has done it with a fair amount of success at times, but in the twilight of his career, he is showing serious control over his mixed bag of leg-spin and other turns.

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