Raina, Ojha must be back in the Test squad

The Indian cricket season 2014-15 has begun with a truncated ODI series against the West Indies and the on-going one with the Lankans. All eyes are now on next year’s World Cup and cricket fans across the country have begun pencilling in the 15 they believe will make it down under. My breakup of the 15 would be 6 batsmen, 1 keeper-batsman, 2 finger spinners, 1 wrist spinner, 4 seamers and 1 floater. The floater could be a spare keeper-batsman, a medium pace all-rounder or a fast bowler. 11 of the 15 have already selected themselves and the fight is on for the remaining 4 spots. The squad will probably have to be finalised at the beginning of the triangular ODI series in January next year, though I won’t be surprised if performances or the lack of them in the Test series preceding it will influence the same. Australia and South Africa are bookmakers’ favourites and I would complete the semis line-up with India and New Zealand. It’s too early to make predictions, yet one cannot see any other team having the consistency to win 3 knockout games and become champions. I think New Zealand at 10-1 is a good bet given that they are going to play all matches till the semis at home. Coming back to the squad, death over bowling is one area of major concern and Dhoni would hope to find some kind of answer to that problem. Shami is doing that job the best as of now, and Ashwin bowls in the batting power play through to the 44th-45th over, but there is no other seamer who can do the job consistently. That is where that floater spot may come in and the Indian selectors could pull a rabbit out of the bag from domestic ODI performances. The other interesting one will be to see which one of Karan Sharma, Amit Mishra and Kuldeep Yadav (wrist spinners) makes the 15. This is going to potentially be the ace up Dhoni’s sleeve especially in the knock-outs against teams which don’t play wrist-spin well. Some of us have decided to take the flight to Australia for the semis and finals and if Dhoni’s team obliges, it shall be a trip to remember.

Before this though, India will also play four very demanding Tests in Australia. Our record in away Tests over the last 3-4 years has been appalling and though there can be various explanations ranging from the IPL to aging seniors retiring together for the same, the lack of fight and the complete capitulation especially towards the end of the series each time has raised several questions. I think this could well be Dhoni’s last season as Test captain and the only reason he may carry on is because there is no other alternative. He has been a superb limited overs captain, but his lack of imagination and over-defensive tactics in Tests overseas has not done a team in transition any favours. He would like to end his stint with a fight, and at least one Test win in Australia if not the series. The whole team, especially the batting and slip catching, will have to perform much better than in England if we have to have any chance to compete. With Shastri a part of the think-tank now, one would expect much better tactics, planning and team selection going forward. K. L. Rahul is all set to make his debut series as the reserve opener and if Shikhar Dhawan does not perform in the first two Tests, could well play the last two games. Rohit Sharma’s ability to play both pace and bounce could be handy and so could Suresh Raina’s all-round abilities. In fact Shastri has made it clear that he wants to see Raina in the Test squad notwithstanding his weakness against the short ball. I think it’s a very good move as his batting ability has never been in doubt. He is more than a useful bowler and a brilliant slip catcher, something that will be vital in Australia. His play against the short ball seems to have improved, though playing Mitchell Johnson on Aussie pitches is a different proposition altogether. Players with his ability are rare and I would back him to put up a fight and maybe even come good. Coming to the bowling, at the cost of repeating myself, I wish to say again that Pragyan Ojha should be the first choice spinner, especially overseas. He is as Sourav Ganguly says,’ a good wicket bowler’, and a left-arm spinner will always create more chances, especially in the first innings. Dhoni must give him the confidence and play him in all four Tests down under. If that means leaving Jadeja out of the squad, so be it. Test matches are not won by bits and pieces cricketers but by specialists and Dhoni with his weak bowling attack must try out all options. Ideally, like all teams who don’t have a genuine all-rounder, we should be playing 4 bowlers on most pitches and someone like a Raina to fill in as the 5th bowler. Over the last year, this new Test team has shown both glimpses of brilliance and periods of despair. How many of this team will have the hunger to play Test cricket with the consistency of Dada’s team of the last decade, will determine India’s performance over the next few years. If they succeed the world will be at their feat. If not, we will still be looking for scape-goats.

My Team for Australia

  1. Murali Vijay
  2. Shikhar Dhawan
  3. K. L. Rahul
  4. Cheteshwar Pujara
  5. Virat Kohli
  6. Ajinkya Rahane
  7. Rohit Sharma
  8. Suresh Raina
  9. M.S. Dhoni ( c )
  10. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar
  11. Mohd. Shami
  12. Varun Aaron
  13. Ishant Sharma
  14. Umesh Yadav
  15. Ravichandran Ashwin
  16. Pragyan Ojha
  17. Wriddhaman Saha (wk)

Kunal Shah

November 2014

 

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