The team selection for India's campaign in next month's World Cup has thrown no real surprises. But it still looks to be a good bet for the big one.
The talking point has been more around omissions rather than selections. One such miss is Rohit Sharma. But Rohit's overall performance has been patchy. Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli have been far more consistent in their careers.
His other competitor Yusuf Pathan has the much-needed X factor. He finally broke his long-innings jinx with a match-winning 79-ball century against New Zealand. Yusuf also has the added advantage of his bowling skills.
Images: India's 15-member WC squad
The top four spinners in contention were Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla, R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha. It was anybody's guess who would be left out. But the selection committee probably has a good idea of the condition of the pitches that will be used for the WC and also have the groundsmen's ears. One hopes all that was taken into consideration when the Ojha was left out.
A brief SWOT analysis of the team that has been picked...Strengths:
The biggest strength of the current team is that it has been formed a result of a well-thought out strategy over the last few years. In the 1980s and 1990s many selections were either knee-jerk or based on regional considerations.
After 2007, there probably have been 20-25 probable candidates for this team and arguably the best have made it to 2011.
Captain MS Dhoni is already on his way to become India's greatest ODI and Test captain. He has a World Cup under his belt and will handle the pressure better.
While batting always has been India's strong point, this is one of our all-time best teams in terms of career strike-rate. Almost all the batsmen can go at a run a ball and more when the situation demands it. This will be a great plus in 300+ chases.
Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh will lead the bowling attack and are peaking at the right time. The amount of part-timers who will be handy on Indian pitches will also be an asset.Weaknesses:
The biggest weakness of this team is that it is injury-prone. Most of India's key players have been injured over the past couple of months. Have they fully recovered? What will happen if a few players get hurt at the beginning of the tournament? That will be the key.
While the top order is packed with three great openers, the middle order is cause to worry. Yuvraj Singh's form has been quite indifferent. He has probably being picked on the basis of his past glory. After Raina's century against Sri Lanka in January 2010, he only has a couple of fifties in the 20 odd matches he has played.
If both of them don't get going, the team will be prone to collapses.Dhoni defends Chawla's inclusion in World Cup squadOpportunities:
The biggest opportunity will be to do well at home. We have traditionally not done well in big ICC tournaments in India. But events like the IPL have brought about a great deal of familiarity of all grounds and this team should fare much better.
Of course this is the biggest opportunity for the great Sachin Tendulkar. He has participated in five losing campaigns so far. This is probably his last chance. Having all the records in the world without a World Cup will be a sad end to a great career. Sachin's hunger for victory will be the greatest in this tournament.
An interesting fact: Greats like Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Arvind de Silva, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist all scored a century in a World Cup final to lead their team to victory.
Sachin, in contrast, couldn't even last one over in the only WC final he has played. 2011 is his greatest opportunity to rectify that travesty.
After the debacle of 2007, India has been very consistent and here is the best opportunity to test that consistency.Threats:
This is the first time when probably there is no clear favourite. The West Indies dominated from 1979-83. Teams from the subcontinent won most of the tournaments from 1983-96. From 1999-2007, it was Australia all the way.
In contrast, this time India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will all thrive on these pitches. England has broken its big title jinx. South Africa is always a good bet for the semis. And Australia? Despite their alleged decline, they are still No. 1 in the rankings a month before the World Cup! So most of the teams are threats for India this time around!
But the biggest threats may well be the indispensability of Zaheer and Dhoni. Without Zaheer, the Indian looks rudderless. Rahul Dravid was ready to take over from Sourav Ganguly. Anil Kumble was a veteran when he took charge. Dhoni also stepped into the captaincy in stages.
In contrast, there is no clear replacement for Dhoni in case of an injury. There is also the World Cup home soil jinx. But with the amount of jinxes that this team has broken, this particular one shouldn't be that difficult!The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger.