For long, Indian Cricket Team was selected based on reputations. A star could have had a dismal patch for a prolonged period but his name would earn him a spot in the squad. This in turn translated into some very deserving talent getting frustrated sitting on the sidelines, waiting for that one spot, that one chance.
In the recent selection of India's limited overs’ sides for the tour of Sri Lanka, the Indian selectors seemed to finally veer away from this trend.
Yuvraj Singh was shown the door, yes, the man who stood tall in some of India’s most important triumphs. But as a board, you must never lose sight of the future. Sure, players like Yuvraj, despite their age and fitness standards, can still win you a game on their day. But these days come increasingly infrequently.
Which means more often than not, these players are a burden on the side. Sometimes, this burden of reputation can bog a team down.
So while the door on Yuvraj isn’t completely shut, he is surely not the only one wanting to get inside. A fitter Suresh Raina (who, it is reported may lead India-A against New Zealand later this year), an upsurging Shreyas Iyer, and an ever rising Rishabh Pant are all looking at that door.
India now play an extensive season of ODI cricket which includes three ODI series at home and one in South Africa early next year. This should also serve as the time period where India look to build the core of the team for the 2019 World Cup in England.
India’s trust in both Manish Pandey and KL Rahul also makes perfect sense given the massive investment Indian Cricket has made in both these fine batsmen. Both of who were automatic selections for the Champions Trophy squad save for their respective injuries right before the tournament.
On the spin front, there are major changes too. Both Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have been left out for the Sri Lankan tour. While Ashwin has confirmed that he will play for Worcestershire, Jadeja, reports say, is also looking for a County stint.
This gives an opening to two young and promising wrist-spinners in Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. Wrist spinners have proven to be lethal weapons for sides in the middle-overs where they not only restrict the scoring on flat tracks but also pick up wickets. With both Jadeja and Ashwin in the XI, this was a constant issue which seemed unaddressed. On flat tracks, while defending, runs leaked from both the ends.
Thus, this tour is a big-big opportunity for both Chahal and Kuldeep who can pave their way into this Indian side if they do well against Sri Lanka. A wrist spinner is always handy!
Rest for Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav means that Shardul Thakur who performed brilliantly on the A-tour gets a call-up. He may prove to be a reasonably handy seamer in England if he can impress against Sri Lanka.
The team selection has finally seemed to address India’s issues in the limited overs. Certain selections here should ideally have been made for the Champions Trophy squad too. Especially that of Kuldeep. But the selectors probably didn't want a high-pressure tournament to be Kuldeep’s first.
But certain selections also do seem to pose a problem of plenty for skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri. Ajinkya Rahane, per Kohli, is firmly in place as India’s ‘third opener’, which means he doesn't qualify automatically to the first playing XI. With both Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma in good form, where does Rahul fit in the scheme of things? If he is indeed tried in the middle order, it’ll be interesting to see whether MS Dhoni gets promoted up the order and Rahul bats after him.
Hardik Pandya’s recent form though lends immense balance to the side, and if he can bowl his full quota of 10, that may allow India to play an extra batsman. But the way limited overs’ cricket has changed in the recent past, no team seems safe with just five bowlers, a cushion in the form of a sixth bowler also helps. In either case, Pandya is a valuable addition.
It is heartening to see that the Indian Cricket team’s selection has finally moved past reputations and big-boy images. When MSK Prasad spoke about how the selection committee is looking at options for as and when MS decides to step down it became pretty clear where everyone in the committee is looking at- the future.
Match-winners don't just appear out of the blue. They need to be identified early in their careers, nurtured and looked after. Pick any modern-day match-winner across any sport and you’ll see the amount of care, dedication and investment that has gone into making him/her the match-winner that he/she is. The time to look at the next crop for the Indian Cricket team is now. And with this selection, they’ve done exactly that.