Announcing the much-awaited 15-member India squad for the upcoming World Cup slated to be held in England and Wales, chief selector M.S.K. Prasad stated that the side was a "balanced one" and has all the bases covered.
But is it so? Does picking a little-here, little-there all-rounder as the No.4 batsman of a World Cup team and calling him a "three dimensional" player solve the purpose of what will be the most vital position in the batting line-up? For those unaware, last time India won the World Cup in 2011, Virat Kohli was India's No.4.
They have gone with the experience of Dinesh Karthik rather than the free-spirited Rishabh Pant. Had former chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar show the same 'caution first' approach, Kohli might have still been waiting to make his India debut.
An U-19 World Cup winning captain, Kohli was immediately drafted into the Indian team and the result is stuff folklores are made of. But then, this is where you need experienced men at the top and not a Prasad who hasn't played enough international cricket to command the respect a Vengsarkar or Sandeep Patil.
It was widely speculated that explosive wicket-keeper batsman Pant would certainly be a part of the team boarding the flight to England. However, it didn't turn out the case as the five-member selection committee went with the superior wicket-keeping skills of Karthik and included him as the second stumper in the squad.
Karthik's experience of 91 ODIs gave him the edge over the 21-year-old Pant, who has just played five games in the 50-over format. So what if the team needs a whirlwind knock to chase down a total in the match where Dhoni isn't playing? Does the X-factor that Pant brings with the bat then doesn't count?
"Well, it's definitely a case where we have debated in length," Prasad said while announcing the squad in Mumbai. "And all of, in unison, we felt that either Rishabh Pant or DK will come into the playing XI, if Mahi is injured. So at that juncture, if it is a crucial match like a quarterfinals or a semi-finals or an important game, wicket-keeping also matters. That's the only reason we went with Dinesh Karthik. Otherwise, Rishabh Pant was almost there."
But if sources in the know of developments in the meeting are to be believed, the men developed cold feet when it came to backing the exuberant youngster.
Karthik was also part of the Indian squad during its disastrous 2007 World Cup campaign. He, however, was not included in the squad for 2011 and the 2015 editions.
The other noticeable thing in the squad is the over reliance on the top three batsmen. Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have scored the chunk of the runs for India in the 50-over format after the 2015 World Cup. However, if all three happen to fail, which can happen on any day, it can be a big problem for the Men in Blue considering their lack of experience lower down the order. One might argue that M.S. Dhoni will be there but you cannot expect him to fire and score at a brisk pace in each and every game.
The inclusion of Shankar highlights this fact. No doubt that he provides a "three dimensional" game as pointed out by Prasad, but one cannot also deny the fact that he lacks the experience with the bat which somebody like Ambati Rayadu could have brought. Rayudu after all is a proper batsman. And if you did wish to experiment, there were prolific scorers in Shreyas Iyer and Mayank Agarwal. But again, this committee didn't show the required temperament to think out of the box.
"After the Champions Trophy, we tried quite a few people [at No.4]. We gave a few more chances to Rayudu. What Vijay Shankar brings is three dimensional. We are looking at him at No. 4 to begin with," said the BCCI chief selector.
The squad includes K.L. Rahul but he, in all likelihood, will play only when either of the two openers gets injured. So, there appears to be a shortage of a proper batsman in the team if the need arises to provide stability and take the innings forward in case of top-order batting collapse.
Looking at the squad, it appears that Kohli and the team management feel confident enough about having bits and pieces all-rounders rather than going in for proper batsman and bowlers.
Both Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya were almost certain to make their way into the squad considering their recent form. Jadeja has been performing well for his Chennai Super Kings in the ongoing IPL. Also, with the wickets expected to be on the slower side in during the showpiece event, the left-armer could prove to be a handy one. Not to forget the solidarity he brings at the lower end of the batting and his brilliance on the field.
Pandya, who was not included in the ODI series for Australia due to fitness issues, provides the team with the fast bowling option which Kohli would desperately need in England. And his power-hitting ability is something which just cannot be ignored.
Prasad has gone the conventional way rather than making adventurous moves and experimenting like it was the case in 2015 when Piyush Chawla was included out of nowhere. However, this was almost expected with Prasad, considering his little experience of playing international cricket and the respect that the likes of Dilip Vengsarkar or Sandeep Patil enjoyed in comparison to him.
The squad picked depends mostly on its star players to perform and in case, they fail to perform, there will be quite a few heads that will roll despite the selection of a "balanced" squad.
(Aakash Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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