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A file photo of M.S. Dhoni. Photo: Hindustan Times
A file photo of M.S. Dhoni. Photo: Hindustan Times

India sticks to the script in choice for World Cup team

Yuvraj, Murali Vijay fail to make the cut as BCCI goes with a young team; Stuart Binny a surprise pick

New Delhi: India’s cricket board stuck to script, and picked a young team for the World Cup, 11 of whose 15 members have never played in cricket’s most prestigious tournament.

Last-minute speculation about the selection of the hero of India’s 2011 World Cup victory, all-rounder Yuvraj Singh, and Murali Vijay, who has batted competently on the fast pitches of Australia, remained just that. Neither was part of the 30 probables from which the Board of Control for Cricket in India picked the team of 15 for the World Cup to be played in Australia and New Zealand from February .

The defending champions will be led by Dhoni, a recent retiree from Test cricket and the man who led India to the title four years ago in Mumbai.

The other members of the team are batsmen Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan; Ambati Rayudu, who can double up as a wicket-keeper in the event of an injury to Dhoni; pacers Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav; and spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Akshar Patel.

India’s struggles down under

India, by the sheer virtue of its recent performances in limited-overs cricket, go into the tournament as favourites to defend the title, alongside co-hosts Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa. Since claiming the World Cup, India has played 95 One-Dayers, winning 60% of the matches (57 wins). Still, its record in Australia and New Zealand makes for disappointing reading.

Since 2000, India has toured Australia (five) and New Zealand (three) eight times. It has played 53 One-Day Internationals (ODIs), winning 19 and losing 29. One of India’s biggest moments in recent ODI history came in 2008, when Dhoni lifted the triangular series in Australia, the country’s first such win in 23 years.

India’s most experienced player in these conditions is captain Dhoni, who in his 27 matches in Australia and New Zealand (combined) has 1,088 runs to his name, at a rather impressive average of 67.20. His vice-captain and India’s current Test captain Kohli follows Dhoni with 664 runs in 13 matches, averaging 55.33 in Australia and New Zealand. Kohli, interestingly, is also the only batsman in this squad to score a hundred in Australia-New Zealand.

The others don’t have much to show for their efforts in Australia and New Zealand.

Bowling woes

However, the key to winning a World Cup in Australia is a well-oiled pace bowling unit. Ishant Sharma, effectively the leader of India’s young bowling attack, has been rather impressive in Australia and New Zealand. In 13 matches, the lanky Delhi pacer has picked up 19 wickets at an average of 27.57, with a best of 4/38. Yadav, who has briefly impressed with his pace, has often struggled to back it up with his discipline. In six matches in Australia-New Zealand, he has conceded 299 runs, picking up only five wickets. Shami, after his meteoric rise in late 2013, has been off-colour recently. However, in the last tour of New Zealand in 2014, he picked 11 wickets from five matches.

The Test tour, if anything, gave the Indian bowlers a unique first movers’ advantage of sorts, an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the conditions expected in Australia.

But their performance in the four Tests (including Day 1, Sydney) has been anything but convincing. Every Indian bowler in this series has averaged at least 45 runs per wicket. No Indian bowler has managed a five-wicket haul thus far. While the two formats (Tests and ODIs) are different, India’s bowlers will have to step up and offer a lot more than just containing runs, thereby burdening the batsmen (who undoubtedly love to chase down targets) with that much more to get.

The biggest positive of this Indian squad is its radically improved standards of fielding over the last decade or so. Purely from a fielding point of view, this could in fact be India’s best World Cup squad.

Lalchand Rajput, coach of the Indian team that last won a One-Day series in Australia (2008) said: “We have a very good chance (of going all the way). It’s a very young team, and I believe picking young boys are better because they want to excel all the time. They want to perform by taking responsibility, and I think we have a good bunch here."

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