Tuesday, January 18, 2011

INDIAN TEAM - FROM 15 TO 11

Well, Messrs Srikkanth and Co. are finished with their work (for now) and have given us a 15-member squad for India's campaign as co-hosts at the Cricket World Cup 2011... the 10th edition of the mega-event.

I have already expressed my opinions about 15-member squad and about who should not have been included and why so over here. But since I am not a member of Team India's selection committee, there is not much that can be done. So here, I am going to have a look at selecting the 11-man squad from the 15... and also possible replacements in case of injuries to any player.

Here is the team once again: MS Dhoni (c) (wk), V Sehwag (vc), S Tendulkar, G Gambhir, V Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, S Raina, Y Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin, P Chawla, P Kumar, Zaheer Khan, A Nehra, M Patel.

In my previous blog, I had mentioned that my ideal first XI would be:

V Sehwag
S Tendulkar
G Gambhir
Yuvraj Singh
S Raina
MS Dhoni
Y Pathan
Harbhajan Singh
P Kumar
Zaheer Khan
A Nehra

The above XI will give India an amazing batting depth to make up for not-too-great bowling resources. The team will have 7 batsmen, with Harbhajan and Praveen who can hit big consistently, and then Zaheer who can also hit big, though not that consistently. And our No. 11 man Ashish Nehra also has hit 8 sixes in international cricket (3 in Tests, 3 in ODIs, 2 in T20s).

From the batting point-of-view, the man that I have left out is Virat Kohli. As I have explained in the previous blog, it is a difficult choice, but necessary to accommodate a big-hitter-cum-tidy-wicket-to-wicket-bowler in Yusuf Pathan. I know many would not agree to dropping Virat Kohli, and Freehit has already suggested that Raina should be dropped instead. But with India going pretty weak and thin on bowling resources, I am of the opinion that atleast 3 part-time bowlers will be needed in the XI. Dropping Raina means that only 2 will be available.

(Note: I have taken the liberty to assume above that Virender Sehwag has not sufficiently overcome his shoulder troubles and thus, his off-spin will not be available to the team.)

Looking at the bowlers now...

The new ball should be shared by Zaheer Khan and Praveen Kumar. I do not see conditions in India over February and March ever favouring the new ball bowlers. Maybe if India reach the semi-finals (which will be played at Mohali) and have to bowl under lights to defend a target, then possibly Ashish Nehra could be given a new ball. However, late in March, I don't think Mohali will also be kind to Nehra. So, Nehra should be the first change bowler.

Govind has rightly pointed out that Nehra tends to be expensive with the new ball, but is a much better bowler at the death. This is another reason why he becomes the first change bowler for me.

I would like to see Dhoni use Praveen Kumar between overs 20 and 34. His bowling does not provide a lot of pace to the batsmen... and with the spinners in operation at the other end, he will provide a nice variety to the attack. He can be a handful when he bowls his cutters with the softer ball. And unless the batsmen opt to take the batting powerplay when the ball is changed, Dhoni should use his part-timers and spinners after 34 overs till he sees signs of the batsmen starting to attack at the death. The reason is that with the harder ball being used after 34 overs, it becomes even more essential for the fielding side to take the pace off the ball.

The role for the reserves...

The four players that I have left out from my XI are Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin, Piyush Chawla and Munaf Patel.

Kohli and Patel will be simple replacements for any injury or under-performance by a batter or a pacer respectively. The positive for India is that Kohli has been in tremendous form of late and Munaf's performance has also been quite up to the mark. So their presence should keep the top XI on their toes... for a couple of failures might result in being dropped (especially for Raina and Nehra).

The case of our reserve spinners is a little different. If there is an injury to Harbhajan Singh, I think Ashwin will be the ideal replacement. So then why is Chawla in the squad? I think it is obvious that Dhoni is thinking of 6 batsmen + 5 bowlers strategies also.

I think it is not too great an idea considering that we have not tried this combination in the lead up to the World Cup. So if he is indeed thinking of such a strategy, Chawla will get a game ahead of either Raina or Pathan or maybe even Yuvraj.

The problem that I see with such a combination is that Piyush Chawla's batting abilities (or should I say, hitting or slogging abilities) are quite a notch below those of Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar and some may say, even Zaheer Khan. So is it wise to sacrifice a good batsman who can bowl decently for a decent bowler who cannot bat at No. 7 or No. 8.

If someone like Ab De Villiers or Eoin Morgan (two very crafty batsmen against spinners) were to take the attack to Chawla on the dead pitches of Nagpur and Kolkata respectively, would he be able to find his bearings? I am not sure...

But while we talk of this, the good bit is that the tournament structure is such that each team will play 6 games in the group stage. And we can afford a couple of losses as we just have to be in top-4 out of 7 teams in the Group. Since 2 of those 7 are Ireland and the Netherlands and 2 others being Bangladesh and the West Indies, India should have plenty of chances to experiment in order to find the ideal combination.

Now lets just hope that this team remains injury-free, because the replacements like Rohit Sharma, S Sreesanth and Parthiv Patel do not inspire a lot of confidence.

Can't wait for the World Cup to begin...

7 comments:

Mahek said...

Let me give you stats of 3 players since the start of 2009.

Player A: Innings 38, Runs 1203, Avg 35.38, SR 85.13

Player B: Innings 35, Runs 1424, Av 47.46, SR 83.81

Player C: Innings 45, Runs 1316, Avg 37.60, SR 98.06

You have to pick 2 of them, or you can pick all 3 & drop Yusuf Pathan. Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir & Dhoni are already in the lineup. Who would you pick?

Shouldn't we be picking proper bowlers if the idea is to cover our thin bowling resources? What is this obsession with part-timers?

Shridhar Jaju said...

Mahek, the problem that I have with our 'proper bowlers' is that they are as likely to have a bad bowling day as our part-timers.

I don't think our part-timers play a bad role at all. It is when one of our proper bowler has a bad day and the part-timers are unable to cover that that they get a lot of stick.

In the 2003 World Cup (the last time when India made a mark at a World tournament of ODIs), our part-timers took 17 wickets. For the record, Zaheer had 18, Srinath 16, Nehra 15, and 16 for Harbhajan + Kumble.

What I am suggesting is that our part-timers have always been our invisible attacking options.

And that is why I cannot pick between players A, B and C till you don't give me their bowling statistics also (though I have them already).

And now is no the time to look at statistics from 2009... that was when we has to build the team! Now, it is time we find the best balance, and for that if one has to sacrifice Player B (even if one does not want to), one will have to!

Eventually though, what we may discuss here may come to zero if Dhoni goes by his instincts and wins the Cup by pulling another Joginder Sharma out of his hat...

Mahek said...

I think 6 of those 17 wickets came in one game against Namibia :)

The problem is we have grown so used to shit bowling that we're just happy if our bowlers don't go for runs. Taking wickets has become an afterthought. Just to illustrate this mindset, all the "experts" were happy with Harbhajan's bowling at the last T20 WC & were critical of Nehra. The former went wicketless in 5 games while the latter had 9 or 10 wickets in the tournament.

So whether we leave out Kohli or not, the part-timers aren't going to make a telling impact with the ball because they'll only be asked to keep the runs down. Good teams will find a way around it just like they have in the last 3 ICC tourneys we've been part of. It is just irrational that people think Yuvraj is better than Kohli because he can bowl a few overs. One look at his bowling record & you'll know how useful he is.

And I don't think any time is not right to look at the numbers. Surely the side you pick has to comprise players who are playing well & not those who might just come off.

Govind Raj said...

Mahek,
Any captain will have to be a brave Captain to drop Yusuf Pathan after his exploits over the past 3 months.

Every single match, he has picked up at least a wicket.

2 Back to back MOM awards for batting exploits only he is capable of. And one of them on 'BOUNCY' pitch.

Are Yuvi and Sehwag so indispensable ? I don't have the stats for last 2 years. But Sehwag's ODI form has never been impressive.

If India have to win, they go with 7 + 4. 5 Bowlers will not work because records have shown that India win more matches playing 4 bowlers than 5 !

Shridhar,
I agree with your team. Choosing between Munaf and Nehra is a tough job. But Nehra is definitely better 'death' bowler.
And... If Gambhir comes at No. 3 Virat will have no place. Raina will be the same bully back on Indian pitches.

I also think Sehwag in the middle theory of SP is interesting option !

Shridhar Jaju said...

Mahek, it is not only India who thinks that 'shit' bowlers are required to keep down the runs. I guess all international teams do it today. Otherwise, you would never see JP Duminy, David Hussey or even TM Dilshan bowling.

And India's ouster in last three ICC tourneys was more due to our batsmen's failings rather than our bowlers' problems (I am leaving out the Twenty20 Championships here because that is a different format requiring different strategies).

Even when our bowlers have been the problem, it has been during the death... surely that is not the domain of our part-timers!

I have come to accept the fact that part-time bowlers are a part and parcel of modern LOI cricketing strategies. More so for India! You would be hard-pressed to find a genuine all rounder in today's cricket... and so, you have to look at the part-timers as your best option!

Govind Raj said...

Shridhar you are absolutely right. Having 3 - 4 guys like Yuvi, Pathan, Raina, Sehwag and even Sachin is better any day than going in with 5 specialists. It has rarely worked for India in any format of the game in any conditions.

Just look at yesterday's match, the seasoned pacers Zaheer and Munaf had off day. Bhajji too was expensive.

Whereas Yuvi, Pathan, Rohit and Raina shared 17 overs for just 71 runs taking 3 wickets.

Once we have 5 specialist bowlers, there will be a stage when 3 or 4 of them fail, you will have to think of playing 6 specialist bowlers.

We have to remember Cricket is all about scoring runs and getting wickets. ODI is more about taking the pace off the ball and that has been done well by our part-timers and the part timers all over.

It is better to play an additional batsman who is a shit bowler than an additional bowler who is a shit batsman. Simply because Kallis and Watson are but a rare breed !

Shridhar Jaju said...

Govind, I am not very against the concept of playing 5 bowlers... but I am against India attempting such a strategy in the World Cup simply because we have not consistently tried out such a game plan for over a decade now.

India is used to its strategy of 4 bowlers and it has worked well. Now if India were to suddenly move to a 5-bowler strategy for the WC, it would be a foolish move, in my opinion. It would raise the question about what the hell was Indian think tank doing for all of past 3-4 years while playing all those meaningless ODIs against Sri Lanka!

SAVE OUR TIGER!