This is a quick post. I did not write a post after the World Cup for the simple reason that it failed to capture my imagination. New Zealand did, and if they had won it would have been a glorious tale; I certainly followed their games, and their semi-final against South Africa was a classic. It was good to watch India too, since we punched well above our weight, especially our much-maligned bowling attack. We played with a consistency and solidity that one would normally associate with New Zealand, while New Zealand took chances and captured the imagination in ways that one would normally associate with India. But beyond that, there was just little to write home about. There was an air of inevitability about Australia’s performances; but unlike in the past decade, there was no aura of greatness about them. Beyond that, in 6 weeks of cricket, there were a sum total of 3 close matches involving the major cricket nations: the semi-final, Aus-NZ pool game, and the Bangladesh win over England. Out of 7 knock-out games, 6 were utterly one-sided. All the hype and PR might suggest otherwise, but that is not good advertisement for a sport that I think is in its death throes.
Still, I am interested in India’s short tour of Bangladesh for a few reasons. Bangladesh’s strong recent performances suggest that they might be tougher opposition than they usually are. One Test doesn’t constitute a series, but I am excited about a post-Dhoni Test side with Kohli at the helm. And the ODIs offer us a chance to rest some of our main players who have been playing non-stop for months, to see who in the next line is good enough to be part of our plans for the next 3-4 years. The time after a World Cup is always a good time to evaluate options in this way.
Given this, my thinking on the teams is as follows. For the Test, I think it is unnecessary to take more than 13 players. And the core of the Test side has selected itself from Australia. The only question really concerns Ravichandran Ashwin’s spinning partner. Ravindra Jadeja is not a good enough bowler for Tests; those who were selected alongside in Australia, Karn Sharma and Akshar Patel, got into the Test side on the basis of IPL performances and do not indicate their potential as Test bowlers either (though I think both are good limited overs prospects). So I still stick to my faith in Pragyan Ojha, whose action has now been cleared. The man who got 10 wickets and man of the match in his last Test match has to be back and part of the picture. The only other question is: who should be Kohli’s Test vice-captain in the long term? I’d go with Murali Vijay, who is now in his late 20s, has been around for 7 years, and has grown in maturity as a batsman to become one of the stalwarts of the batting line-up. The final change I would make is to swap positions between Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara (as I have argued previously), to have Rahane bat at 3. I still have enormous faith in Pujara’s abilities as a Test batsman; but Rahane is the man in form, he is in actuality an opener so better equipped to face the new ball in case of an early wicket; and he has the ability to set the pace of an innings better than Pujara. I think batting at 5 will allow Pujara the time and the luxury to play his natural game and get back into form.
The one-day side offers more possibilities. I would rest a lot of our major players there: Dhoni, Kohli, Rohit, Rahane, Ashwin and Umesh have all played a lot in recent months and don’t need to be part of this series; Mohammed Shami is injured. But I would also not rush to youngsters. One of the great things about this selection committee is that they haven’t rushed to blood people; they have evaluated consistency and years of domestic performance before giving them an India cap. With this criterion, the most obvious selection as Shikhar Dhawan’s opening partner would be Robin Uthappa, who is a much improved batsman, who was unlucky to miss out on a World Cup spot, and who in the meantime has been staking his claims in the longer form as well, being the top scorer in the Ranji Trophy this year. Suresh Raina and Ambati Rayudu will form the heart of the middle-order, but I would bring in Manoj Tiwary, one of the unlucky stalwarts of domestic cricket, to join them. Wriddhiman Saha would be the obvious wicket-keeper in Dhoni’s absence. Jadeja, Akshar and Karn would form the spin bowling options, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma would lead the pace attack.
The two other selections I would make are based on strong and consistent domestic performances. For third seamer: it is high time Ashok Dinda was given a proper chance. He has been the single outstanding domestic performer for years, but 4 years after Sourav Ganguly proclaimed he was India’s best fast bowler he has still not been given a consistent run. He can consistently hit 140 and can swing the ball big, and his prolific form has continued into domestic cricket this year. He has been hurt by expensive performances in past IPLs, but he is not fundamentally a T20 bowler. He showed this year that he is however a fine 50-over bowler, topping the wickets charts in the Ranji ODI trophy and making it to the World Cup probables on the back of that performance. It is only fair that he now be given a chance.
The final spot would be that of back-up batsman, and here I would go with another fine domestic performer who has been on the fringes of the ODI side in the past year, Kedhar Jadhav. Jadhav is a diminutive and busy batsman, in the mold of J.P. Duminy, and someone who can grow to be a very useful middle-order performer for India in the long run. He has only been given the odd chance so far, and this series could allow him the opportunity to stake more of a claim.
Therefore my Test team:
Murali Vijay (V), Lokesh Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli ©, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha (W), Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav / Pragyan Ojha. (Reserves: Shikhar Dhawan, Pragyan Ojha / Umesh Yadav)
My ODI team:
Shikhar Dhawan (V), Robin Uthappa, Suresh Raina ©, Ambati Rayudu, Manoj Tiwary, Wriddhiman Saha (W), Ravindra Jadeja, Akshar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Ashok Dinda. (Reserves: Kedhar Jadhav, Stuart Binny, Karn Sharma)