The Sandip Patil led selection committee is trying hard to keep the balance between youth and experience but overall there is little doubt that they are following a youth oriented policy and are willing to jettison older hands who do not deliver. The axing of Yuvraj Singh from the ODI squad to play in New Zealand is in keeping with this far sighted approach.
Yuvraj might have been a match winner in his own right in numerous limited over games and nearly three years ago reached his peak when he was adjudged man of the tournament at the end of the triumphant World Cup campaign. But for some time now he has not been the commanding batsman before whom bowlers and captains used to quail. If any confirmation is needed it is provided by the stats.
In the one year that he has played since his comeback after cancer treatment the 32-year-old left hander has scored 278 runs from 16 innings at an average of 18.57 with just two half centuries. Clearly the sparkle has gone out of his pyrotechnical batting and till he can get his old touch back it is better that he stay on the sidelines perhaps to reflect and to work on his game.
One somehow feels that Yuvraj has it in him to contribute substantially to the Indian cause again especially in the limited overs game. But for the time being it is better in the long term interests of the team that a younger man takes over.
But if the selectors have done well in omitting Yuvraj they have sprung an unpleasant surprise by including Ishant Sharma in both squads. The 25-year-old paceman’s bowling has clearly seen better days. His line and length are awry, he has lost the sting that he displayed early in his career when he had even Ricky Ponting hopping and there is a listlessness about his approach.
After faring badly in the ODIs at home one thought he might recover his touch on the more responsive tracks in South Africa but five wickets at 62.60 apiece were a poor return for the two Tests. He has outlived his usefulness as his career average (almost 39), a strike rate of almost 70 and a tally of 149 wickets after playing 53 Tests underlines. Less than three wickets a match for a specialist bowler is quite unacceptable.
In addition he is no bat and is a liability in the field. He also could do with a break and perhaps have a stint at the MRF Pace Foundation where he could work on his bowling with Glenn McGrath and iron out the deficiencies. Like Yuvraj he too could contribute in the future again for he has age on his side but right now it is better if a young talent could be encouraged.
Fortunately there are a lot of promising pacemen and the selectors have done admirably in recalling Varun Aaron who has recovered from a lengthy fitness problem. It certainly should be a heartening sight for anyone who cares for Indian cricket to see Aaron, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav bowl as a trio. Two other welcome inclusions are Ishwar Pandey and Stuart Binny.
Pandey, a lanky 24-year-old fast bowler from Madhya Pradesh has had a good run around the domestic circuit for the last couple of seasons and has been justly rewarded. As for Binny he could prove to be an able utility man like his father Roger, a hero of India’s World Cup triumph in 1983.
Keeping in mind the seaming and swinging conditions in New Zealand the selectors have in fact packed both the Test and ODI sides with pace bowlers. There are six in each squad counting Binny who will figure only in the ODIs.
But whereas there are only two spin bowlers in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in the Test team there is an additional spinner in Amit Mishra for the ODIs. One wonders whether there will be any work for the leg spinner even if there are five limited over games. Also one cannot help feeling that the tour of New Zealand could be an important one for Ashwin following his failures in Australia and South Africa.
There are no major surprises as far as the batting is concerned though there could be a bit of pressure on a couple of them to deliver. Suresh Raina for long a certainty in limited over cricket has not exactly lived up to his lofty reputation of late.
In the second half of 2013 he scored just 444 runs from 21 innings at an average of just over 26 with just one half century. Rohit Sharma failed to pass his big test in South Africa after a heady start at home getting just 45 runs from four innings.
His batting inspired little confidence and the two Tests in New Zealand could really determine whether he has it in him to come good in away matches. One supposes the same goes also for Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay. The latter did play a couple of impressive knocks but was not totally convincing.
A successful tour of New Zealand could boost his confidence and help him cement his place at the top of the order.