You may want to, for a moment, put yourself in the shoes of Ashish Nehra and Sreesanth - In the 18 months before the World Cup began, Nehra was India's main strike bowler and rarely missed a game, due to injury or otherwise. Sreesanth, on the other hand, was the last-minute replacement for injured Praveen Kumar. While he wasn't in the Indian scheme of things for a while, he did impress one and sundry in the warm-up games.
Strangely though, Nehra has so far bowled 13.4 overs in the World Cup and more unfortunately has been made a veritable pariah by the 1.2 billion Indians. And Sreesanth has featured in only 1 game, bowled 5 rather insipid overs and seemed to have done his bit in the World Cup campaign.
The game against the West Indies at Chennai was the ideal and perhaps the last opportunity to give either of them another hit in the middle before the all important knock-outs. You may argue that winning the game convincingly against the men from the Caribbean was mandatory to build the much needed momentum, but does that mean we would have lost the game had we played Nehra or Sreesanth? I seriously refute any such whims.
But let's look around and see what other teams are doing at this stage. Once the birth for the quarter-finals is secured, teams generally try out various options to have a bigger pool of players to choose from at the knock-out stage. South Africa for instance, rested Steyn, Morkel and DeVilliers against Bangladesh and yet thrashed the opposition. Even the West Indies rested Gayle and Roach for the match against India.
Ironically though, we don't seem to have realized the importance of giving key players a decent run before the knock-outs. And what about our over-reliance on Zaheer to provide us those crucial breakthroughs every time we desperately need them? Shouldn't we at least try to find another man to share the burden with him? Nehra was Dhoni's go-to man in Zaheer's absence but a few bad outings, unfortunately, have changed everyone's opinion.
Ideally, one would always want to play the strongest possible team on any particular day. Yet, winning the World Cup may not always be about putting the best XI on the park each time, at least not against the minnows or weaker oppositions. We had the option of giving Sreesanth another go against either Ireland or Netherlands but we chose to look the other way. Raina could have also been roped in for one of those games, but again we decided take no notice of him.
While I understand the sentiment of safety-first, thanks to the intense scrutiny and overwhelming expectations, but one may have to look beyond them to do what is best for the team. The reason why I'm advocating for the inclusion of Nehra or Sreesanth is simply this - what happens if, God forbid Zaheer pulls up a muscle or Munaf has a bad stomach on the morning of the quarter-finals?
I'm not even contemplating the possibility of finding a surface which demands the inclusion of another seam bowler in place of a spinner. Won't we be forced to go back to one of these bowlers and expect them to deliver too, quite unfairly at that? Nehra bowled 5 overs in three spells against Ireland and 8.4 overs against South Africa including the much debated last over.
Yes, he got hit for runs and didn't look in the best of form but isn't it the time to get behind him and help him get the confidence back instead of going with the popular view of dumping him? I'm not against dropping a player if he hasn't done well, in fact you must not take decisions emotionally, but it is only wise to keep an eye on the future possibilities while finalizing your playing XI, especially for not so important games.