Kris Srikkanth and his selection committee have managed to keep most of us happy with their selection of the 15-member World Cup squad. The Sehwags, Sachins and Zaheers playing on sub-continental pitches provide hope, yet some outstanding issues give you pause for thought.
The first is this: how, in an ideal scenario, do you select a World Cup squad and prepare it for the big event? In the months leading up to the event, you pick players you have in the frame, try them out in the designated rules, experiment with alternatives. Then, once you are sure of your final selections, you bring them together as a team to see how they jell with one another. And that raises the first issue - the likes of Munaf, Nehra, Chawla and Yusuf have not been traveling as part of this team until very recently. This in turn means that we are still not sure what the playing eleven will comprise of, and how the players will fit into the various roles. To underline this example - though Piyush Chawla has been picked for the squad, he hasn't played for the national team since 2008. Ashwin is a key member, yet he doesn't get a game. Nehra is another key component - who has been picked at a time when his form is such a liability, the captain is not able to get his ten overs in even on the seam friendly wickets of South Africa.
If that is the case with the bowling, the batting is no different. We will in all likelihood go in with seven batsmen, and four bowlers - so who exactly is our number seven? Rewind - the top three spots will certainly be shared between Sehwag, Gamhhir and Tendulkar. Logically, the in-form Virat Kohli should come in at four - but will he? The spots 4 and 5 will likely be between Kohli, Yuvraj and Raina, with the captain coming in at six.
This emphasizes the importance of number seven, who can make or break the game for you. He is your last recognized batsman before the tail and in an ideal scenario, since you are going in with just four bowlers, you want someone in there who can set up the game with the bat, but also bowl as close to a full quota of 10 overs as possible. Keep in mind also that if one of your four main bowlers has an off day, the contribution of number seven with the ball becomes even more critical.
The way the team has been picked, Yusuf Pathan seems your most likely number 7.
That leaves the question of Yuvraj Singh, who during his heyday used to bat in the pivotal number 5 position. In recent times, however, he is no longer the dominating, game changing batsman of before; his technique has fallen away as has his footwork; he is appreciably slower in running between the wickets. In recent months, he is misfiring in almost every position he has played in. To add to it, there is his penchant for the high life, his propensity for making the gossip pages of the papers and not the sports pages - all of which saw him named in a recent poll as one of the top ten egoistic sportsmen.
He came into the cricketing world like he seriously meant business. The image of him (in 2002-03), practicing outside the dressing room with his helmet and pads on as soon as India has lost their third wicket, is still fresh in my mind. Yuvraj showed proficiency and urgency with his bat, was excellent in the field and could contribute with few good overs. He was hot.
Perhaps fame came to him too much, too soon; perhaps he was temperamentally incapable of doing the hard yards that the game demands of its practitioners; perhaps the perks of fame distracted him from the processes that lead to success. Whatever the reason, his position in the side, and his place in the batting order, is no longer the sure thing it used to be - on form, you could argue that the middle order needs to read: Kohli at 4, followed by Dhoni at 5 and Raina at 6, with the elder Pathan in at 7. In other words, there is no place, if you judge purely on form, for Yuvraj. Where are you going to slot him - at 4? That would be gross injustice to Virat Kohli, who both through technique, temperament and form, has made the slot his own over the course of the last year.
This whole debate underlines the real problem: with less than a month for the World Cup, we still have no clarity about our lineup, and about the assigned roles for various players.
While on that, who opens? Sehwag and Gambhir have been our most successful combination in recent memory - yet now that Sachin Tendulkar is back in the side, he will want to open. That removes the advantage of the left right combination; it breaks up a successful combination - yet Tendulkar will open, because that is what he wants. If you remember, after our disastrous performance in the last World Cup, the one thing the senior pro had to say was, India's crashing out in the preliminary stage had to do with the fact that the batting order was wrong, and that he should have been opening.
There is a related issue to the splitting up of the regular opening pair - Gambhir hasn't batted at number three in a long while. If 3 is the slot ear-marked for him, should the side not have given him the opportunity to play in that role and grow into it?
I guess what I am driving at is this: while on paper the Indian World Cup squad looks good, balanced, in point of fact it raises more questions than it answers. After India's disastrous campaign in the last World Cup, the ICC quickly changed the format to ensure that top teams - especially India, which contributes the largest chunk of spectators and sponsors - do not crash out in the first round. So the team's progress to the quarter-final stage is a given - however, its further progress depends on finding answers to these questions. Soon.