Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Champions to be?

Rediff has a pick the team page for the first match of the Champions Trophy. And the possible twelve are Sourav Ganguly (captain), Rahul Dravid (vice-captain), Virender Sehwag , Yuvraj Singh, V V S Laxman, Rohan Gavaskar, Mohammad Kaif, Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Agarkar, Irfan Pathan, Laxmipathy Balaji, Anil Kumble, Ashish Nehra and Dinesh Karthik.

Now if I were to consider Ganguly, Dravid, Yuvraj, Kaif, Balaji, Pathan and Harbhajan (due to recent good figures) as automatic picks (which they are), it leaves me with four places yet to fill. I started with the rest of the batting order, but decided the conundrum might be easier to solve if I figure out my bowling attack. Pathan, Balaji and Harbhajan have been the better bowlers in the three matches of the Natwest Challenge. So ideally we would need two more bowlers. But going by the record so far, I think Ganguly might opt for just four bowlers and would want the fifth bowlers duties shared among his part timers and him. But there likes India's major challenge - the absece of one Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Four bolwers and Sachin would have been my choice too (with others chipping in just to change ends or something), but thats outta the picture. So it has to be five specialist bowlers with the last two coming from the trio of Kumble, Nehra and Agarkar. I would give Kumble an automatic spot, because he adds variety and guile. So that makes eight.

Out of these three places, one has to go for an opening batsman. Normally Sehwag would have been an automatic pick for this position alongside Ganguly, but the abject lack of form makes me waver on his choice. Going by the same yardstick I am not considering Laxman an automatic pick. So the choice of opener would be between Sehwag and Laxman (since he is the only one among the other non-automatic picks to have opened the batting) with one of the two finding a place at the top of the order and the other fighting for a place in the middle order with Gavaskar and Dinesh Karthik. Lets put off this decision till we figure out the choices for the other spot. Now coming to the question of inclusion/non inclusion of Karthik. I am all for it, because this is a good time to experiment with minimal chances of negative results upsetting our chances in the tournament. So Karthik would ideally get the 8th automatic spot, with Dravid hanging up the gloves. So this is my team of eleven - Ganguly, X, Kaif, Dravid, Yuvraj, Karthik, Pathan, Balaji, Harbhajan, Kumble, Y, where X is a choice between Laxman and Sehwag while Y is a choice between Nehra and Agarkar.

This is not exactly my idea of a Dream Team. But it is unfortunate that Laxman and Sehwag are in the same level form wise that I have to choose between them. It is also imperative that India employ a full time wicketkeeper as an investment for the future. It is unfortunate that Parthiv Patel does not merit a place in this team even after a year or so as Dravid's understudy (in the ODI squad). Though I was gung-ho about his selection in 2002 and I thought he would make a good understudy to a older wicket keeper, soon I realised he was not going to get games and when he did, his mistakes while battting at the age of 18 were going to be held against him.
If Karthik gets a chance to play (regardless of my choice, I don't think he will) and does well, I hope he gets persisted with, because after a point, it is imperative that we come to terms with the fact that in a couple of years Dravid is going to be gone and we need a strong ODI keeper. Our choices are to either go with an experienced hand (the search for which will probably end with Ratra and if you ask certain people, Dasgupta) or shuffle between Karthik and Patel till one of them proves to be the man for the job. It is going to take a year or two, but I think this wait would be worth it. But it is also frightening that even before Karthik gets to play his second or third game, people have started talking about his replacement in the India A squad - Dhoni. It is always natural that someone or the other always scores runs or has a hand in dismissal. But only after we let them play for sometime can be decide whether those performances were merely flashes in the pan or not.

Coming back to Rediff's team. I picked Ganguly, Sehwag, Kaif, Yuvraj, Dravid, Pathan, Balaji, Karthik, Harbhajan, Kumble and Nehra. And I find that apart from people rooting to have just four bowlers and include both Laxman and Sehwag at the expense of Kumble, my team seems to be what everyone chose too. But I would consider going with four bowlers a logical mistake given that our batsmen seem to be in the worst of form. For once, it seems our bowling is our strong point. Let us use it to our benefit!

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