Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Team India, World Cup 2011
GROUP B (Bangladesh, England, India, Ireland, Netherlands, South Africa, West Indies)
Team -INDIA (Also, host nation)
ODI Rank - 2
ODI Rating - 122
Last World Cup - First Round/Round Robin
Finals Appearances - 2
Best in a World Cup- Winner 1983
MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Piyush Chawla, R Ashwin
Strength - Top order, Nerves, Hosts
Weakness - Bowling (Pace, especially)
India play hosts in the 10th edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup, and will start the event vs Bangladesh (co-hosts) at Dhaka.
India has selected the squad, mostly, based on performances over the past one year or so in One-Dayers and recent test series. In a little over the past year, India has been lurking in or around the subcontinent, taking down oppositions of the likes of Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Bangladesh. And, a little further ago, India had beaten WI in WI and hosted and defeated England. The only black dot has been a charred trip to Zimbabwe, in which the Indian bench strength was tested for independent performance, which the young and inexperienced side failed miserably (2 losses to Zim, 1 loss to SL, failed to make to the Tri-Series Finals).
The only surprise to many folks was the inclusion of Piyush Chawla out of thin air. The young leg break bowler last played for India in Pakistan in mid-2008 (Asia Cup league, loss). I haven't heard about him making any serious inroads in the past Ranji season. UP didn't make it to the knock-out phase either. He features in the spot where some expected Sreesanth to fill in, and some awaited Rohit Sharma. Sreesanth has been in good control of the white ball since his return to the side this year, and bowled very well vs NZ on not the friendliest of tracks. Rohit Sharma has been in and out of the squad over the past 2 years, having just the two centuries in Zimbabwe to his CV, in an ignored cause. Selectors opted for a spinner-allrounder to fill in that 15th spot, and in came Chawla.
India's top order looks very good. The likes of Sehwag, Sachin, Gambhir, Raina, Kohli, Yuvraj, Dhoni and Pathan will send shivers into any bowling attack which has been following the cricket India plays at home. But, there are just two or three snags here.
1. Only 7 of the above 8 can feature in the team. Assuming all are fit, it will be 3 of Raina/Yuvraj/Kohli/Pathan. Yuvraj is trying to cement his place in the side. Raina has been not more than "promising" for the past year, falling every now and then (short ball, BIG weakness). Pathan is taking over the role of pinch hitter, finisher and can help with the role of floater if Gary and MSD opt to go for the technique Greg Chappel introduced. Kohli, India's leading run scorer must play all matches. He adds the stability to the side, like what Dravid contributed in the previous World Cups. Raina has the talent, but just needs a tad more control to elevate himself from good to great. Yuvraj has history and records behind his back, we should just hope that it doesn't weigh too much on him. Yuvi, Pathan can bowl some 5th bowler quota too. Raina can't be trusted with run-contention, and Kohli, for some reason is not bowling his medium pacers all that frequently since he led India to the u-19 victory in '08.
2. Fitness concerns at the top of the order. Sehwag, Sachin and Gambhir are all nursing injuries now and are expected to return just in time for te practice and training, and the warm up games. The fitness of openers is crucial for India's success. Early runs on the board will help the middle order to play its calm game before accelerating towards the end.
3. Adjustment. In the past year, none of Sachin, Sehwag or Gambhir had played at number 3. There weren't very many instances in a long time when all three of them played together. Gambhir will mostly have to come at number 3, after finding his form as opener in the ODI series vs NZ. In the past, Sehwag had to step down to no.3 when Ganguly and Sachin paired up, and wasn't all the very comfortable at one-drop. Let's hope Gambhir can adjust to the spot and move on, having done it in the past, he knows what it is like.
Indian bowling looks quite strong with names like Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan and Munaf Patel bowling wonderfully well at both Indian and foreign pitches. A toss up between Praveen Kumar (now nursing injury) and Ashish Nehra will fill the line-up. Ashwin and Chawla would hope for world cup caps when India plays Nederlands and Ireland.
Bhajji has finally found the need to be persistent even if a wicket is not in the kitty. He is a hungry wily fox after he has his first prey, for sure. Zaheer Khan has cut down on pace, but is going great guns with control of line and length, and lending his experience to other bowlers. Munaf, has silently been doing his job of picking crucial wickets at crucial times with his impeccable accuracy and stump-to-stump bowling at a decent (but not too pacy) pace. Nehra has been disappointing in the SA tour, but has been good in ODIs before the tour since his come-back. He has decent pace and has better control on the Indian tracks, or, so was the case. Ashwin and Chawla are decent choices for a spinner-who-can-bat. But, both will have to fight their way through to the XI.
Captain cool-head Dhoni will look to win some tosses for a change. He has been the rock of the batting spine. Averages nearly 50 in the ODIs, plays with responsibility, and knows to play with the tail. He has to be extremely fit, as he is the only keeper in the squad. His captaincy has been clever and technically good... though, once in a while, the introduction of Raina or Sachin before/over Sehwag baffles me. On a whole, he has been near-perfect. He knows how to handle the youngsters and the seniors alike, and the dressing room loves him. If only lady luck loved him as much at the toss ;-)
India plays Bangladesh, England, Ireland, Nederlands, South Africa and West Indies in that order. Plenty of time between most games (except 2 free days before SA game, and 2 before Nederlands game). So, India can prepare well for each game, mentally and technically.
The two minnows India face, come together, and right in the middle of the itinerary. Thus, India can play the bench strength and see what it has to offer, and then make a decision on whom to play against SA and West Indies. Assuming India wins atleast 3 or its first 4 games, the last two will be important to gather momentum going into the quarter finals. West Indies and Bangladesh will both be trying to clinch the group's 4th QF berth up for grabs, and hence, India will have to be cautious of WI's resurgence in the last ODI.
Toughest league game - vs SA (Nagpur)
Easiest league game - vs Ireland (Chennai)
I would say, India has the ability to go to the Semi-final stage and beyond. But, that will depend upon what unfolds over the one month of league phase (ONE MONTH???). It will be one game at a time.
India has been waiting for this world cup since the day the team lost to Sri Lanka 4 years ago, in, what must surely have been, India's worst show at world cup since winning it in '83. All that, is the past. Team India have done their homework well, and will like to honour the great improvement by gifting Coach Gary Kirsten with the World Cup victory as a parting gift. His contribution to the team has been excellent, and would've been incomplete w/o the services of bowling coach Eric Simmons.
All roads lead to the world cup, and, India will now want to break the host jinx.