Indian selectors looking ahead

cricket blogs for Yahoo Cricket Columns

The controversy over club vs country, the debates over too much cricket and the injuries to various key players and the reasons as to why and how all this happened can be kept aside for the time being. The most positive aspect of the selection of the Indian squads for the tour of the West Indies is that it gives many promising players the opportunity to cement their places in the team in the near future. After all the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh cannot go on forever. Much has been said and written about the Indian team's bench strength and here was a chance for the selectors to look ahead and plan for the future and that is what they have done.


Kris Srikkanth and his colleagues have spread the net far and wide but in reality there is never any need to do so as the replacements for established players are always ready. In batting and bowling India have an admirable second line of defence and there is no reason for anxiety. Under normal circumstances it should be a cause for worry with Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman all in their mid and late 30s and even if they are quite irreplaceable it is heartening to know that there are young players around with a good deal of class, skill and experience.


Let's take the limited overs squad first. Dhoni, Sehwag and Tendulkar were not in the original squad and once Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh had to withdraw citing injury all interest centered around their replacements. In naming Shikar Dhawan and Manoj Tiwari the selectors have acknowledged talent, technique and domestic form which is the correct way to go about it. And in elevating Suresh Raina to the captaincy in place of Gambhir the selectors have shown a good deal of foresight for the left handed batsmen has always displayed leadership qualities.


A pugnacious batsman and a fierce competitor - very much in keeping with the game today in which no quarter is asked for and none given - Raina should have little difficulty in making a success of the role. Partly this will also be because he has a balanced squad. The World Cup champions and the No 2 ranked ODI side in the world should get the better of the West Indies, currently ranked No 8 even if they  are playing away from home. The first eleven should revolve around Raina, Ashwin, Badrinath, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ishant Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, Parthiv Patel, Munaf Patel Yusuf Pathan and Parveen Kumar and even in the absence of Tendulkar, Gambhir, Yuvraj and Dhoni it does look like a side that will be hard to beat.


Much more interest however centered around the Test squad and again even in the absence of Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir and Yuvraj it does have a balanced look about it. As I said the most heartening aspect is that a number of gifted young players have made the cut including Murali Vijay, Abhinav Mukund, Raina, Badrinath and Kohli. The Test team looks even better than the limited overs side and things have just fallen into place as naturally and spontaneously as one could expect even with the stalwarts missing.


The team will have a new pair of opening batsmen in Vijay and Mukund both hailing from Tamil Nadu with Parthiv Patel as the back-up opener. Dravid and Laxman are certainties in the middle order. Kohli, Badrinath and Raina will fight it out for the two remaining places in the batting order though here perhaps Cheteshwar Pujara is a trifle unlucky to miss out. Dhoni comes in at No 7 while among the bowlers Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh are  certainties. The second spinner's slot is a toss-up between Pragyan Ojha and Amit Mishra while Zaheer's partner could be any one of Munaf Patel, Sreesanth or Ishant Sharma. Right down the line then it can be seen that there is plenty of back-up in case of injury or lack of form.


So what can be expected from the tourists in the Caribbean? Past record and present form are two very important criteria to analyze before coming to any conclusion. As far as Tests are concerned India have won just two in contests dating back to 1953. Interestingly enough though the visitors won the last series played there in 2006 the second victory coming 35 years after their first historic path breaking triumph in 1971. On present form the Indians are better placed in both limited overs cricket and Tests. While India are the No 1 ranked team in Tests, West Indies are No 7.


The West Indies are taking on India immediately after a shared two-Test series against Pakistan which came on top of a five-match ODI series which Pakistan won 3-2. Even with a depleted side the Indians have it in them to win both the contests but even if they don't the tour presents the perfect platform for the youngsters to show that they are ready to stand in the shoes of the seniors whenever they call it a day. From that viewpoint the tour has the makings of a historic one.