The national selectors get top marks in my book for picking well-balanced side for the Champions Trophy while rooting out the likes of Sehwag, Gambhir and Yuvraj. For these three players, the writing is clearly on the wall and they will have to work twice as hard to get back into the Indian squad if they hope to figure in the 2015 World Cup.
Commiserations are due to Rahane and Pujara for missing the flight to England. I thought Pujara deserved a place and if he was still recovering from an an injury that went against him in the selection meeting, then there was no sign of it during his half-century the other night for RCB against Kings XI. In fact, Pujara looked to be in good touch. As for Rahane, he wasted a few opportunities that were given to him and it’s a pity that his current form for Rajasthan Royals was not given any weightage.
Whatever, the squad on the face of it appears quite capable, though some quarters have questioned the choice of Vijay and Mishra. Yet, both deserve their spots as Vijay has it in him to cement his spot in the team while Mishra has been in exceptional form in the ongoing IPL that has also shed light on his batting that is nothing to be scoffed at.
For all that, the real test would be the conditions in England where even the best of batsmen have struggled against movement, both in the air and off the seam. In the event, I expect somebody like Bhuvneshwar Kumar with his seam-up bowling to reap rich rewards. Kumar has been impressive even on the flat Indian tracks and given his ability to move the ball around, the English conditions should suit his bowling quite nicely.
It is also good to see Irfan Pathan back in the squad. I have always held that Indian cricket lost this talented all-rounder somewhere along the line when he was sent up the order as a pinch-hitter as part of some hare-brained experiment. In the process, Irfan focused more on his batting and lost his sting in bowling. He is not as pacy as before, but still has a lot of cricket in him. It is just a question of reposing faith in him.
The IPL, though not the best of yardstick to judge players, nevertheless is a good enough indicator on the form and fitness of players in the context of shorter formats of cricket. For instance, Miller’s stunning 101 not out for Punjab against the cocky RCB has certainly marked him out as a player to watch in the Champions Trophy. In my book, the 101 had more meaning than Gayle’s 175 not out that was all brute power and no elegance in contrast to Miller’s knock that came under extreme pressure and was replete with silken strokes.
Should Punjab continue its win-spree then they should be in the top four mix and their presence will certainly lend the play-offs a lot more spice and colour. The IPL thus far has thrown up some strange performances, notably Chennai’s 79 all out to Mumbai’s 139 that is something difficult to fathom. The shocker of a result only gave the tournament another twist with as many as six in the fray for the play-offs at the time of writing.
One of the six includes Rajasthan who under Dravid have been performing exceptionally well and appear certain to progress to the play-offs. As mentioned in my previous coloumn, Dravid, along with Dhoni have emerged as the two best captains in the IPL. Dravid’s commitment and thought process as a cricket captain are second to none, and one quite liked the way in which he has been quietly nurturing young Indian talent in his squad.
Yagnik and Samson (or Viswanadhan, if you please) are the prime examples of Dravid’s shrewd moves to ease in local talent without being too obvious about it. Both performed well in different batting positions with Samson, only 18, being quite outstanding for one so young and inexperienced.
In fact, Dravid and Dhoni have been far superior to other IPL captains some of whom after opting out due to poor form, have not been able to get back into the team! Ponting and Gilchrist (will we see them again next season?) appear happy to be in the dugout while Gambhir, Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Kohli and Mathews/Finch have been far from impressive.
I believe that the IPL is ripe for a major shake-up in terms of team composition with cricketing sense scoring over whims and fancies of the franchise owners few of whom have any knowledge of the game, and tend to run their teams like they do their office.
With IPL roots worming their way deeper, a re-jig will only benefit the competition and hopefully, we would get to see far more attractive, high quality and meaningful cricket.