Cricket: The team to Down Under

Cricket: The team to Down Under

They seem to send a lot of people on cricket tours these days! Eighteen to England for a five Test series and now 18 to Australia for five weeks of Test cricket!

I can see the thought behind it. When you play at home, you have a lot of options and this is another way of providing the tour selectors more choices. But the job of the national selectors is to pick teams and while this has been a really good selection committee, what they have ended up doing, really, is shortlisting players. And so, with budgets no longer a constraint, you could pick 20, or a couple more.

It could well be that the fringe players in the Test team are contenders for World Cup spots and that the thinking is that they are better off getting acclimatised rather than playing four-day cricket on Indian pitches. It could well be that you need more quality bowlers in the nets, or that players will benefit from closer interaction with the coaches. But picking everybody has its side effects too. Players who know they have no chance can become disinterested tourists and that is natural. Everyone wants to play, that is almost the reason for your existence, but if you are merely hitting a few balls after everyone has gone, it is not much fun. When you are one of 16 you are probably one injury away from getting a game, in your mind you are sharp.

Having said that, there are a couple of interesting selections. Medium pacers have been done away with, for a start, and so there is no room for Pankaj Singh, Ishwar Pandey or Dhawal Kulkarni. These are not bad cricketers but on the demanding surfaces in Australia you need to put in a lot to get results. Only Bhuvaneshwar Kumar remains from the medium pace brigade, but he has played himself into a different league. Australia is very different from England and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to the conditions. The urge to play three quicker men will be strong.

Karn Sharma is a positive selection too. He is quicker through the air than Amit Mishra, his leg breaks are a little more muscular but he is one of three spinners in a team that is unlikely to play more than one in the playing 11. If the idea is to pick a wicket-taking spinner rather than someone who blocks one end, which seemed to be the role Jadeja was assigned in England, it is a good move but otherwise he will be short of cricket at an age when he should be playing as much as he can.

Suresh Raina is the other interesting pick. It is a big vote of confidence and I won't be surprised at all if the input has come from Ravi Shastri. We spent an evening or two together in England and Ravi was extremely bullish on Raina's ability. There is no doubt his century in a one-day game in England was outstanding, but clearly the selectors have seen more. Raina has always been the kind of player you want in the side because he brings a lot of energy, is a brilliant fielder, can slip in overs and has a very good attitude.

But those traits are secondary to the ability to score runs against fast short-pitched bowling. Nobody likes it, but it seemed Raina liked it less, though, to be fair, he never shied away from it. Though he starts the tour as the reserve middle order player, this will be a big test. It will be excellent for Indian cricket if he passes it, but it will be a tough exam.

While Ravindra Jadeja retains his place, I am really looking forward to seeing how the competition with Akshar Patel evolves in limited overs cricket. Currently, young Patel is being given the opportunity to find his way in international cricket, but he is a feisty young cricketer too and has outbowled Jadeja in a couple of games. The challenge should ideally push Jadeja to raise his game and if these two can find the positive effects of competition that will be nice. But competition breeds insecurity too, and that is where handling players will become important.

So too with Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma in the one-day side. As Sourav Ganguly keeps saying, there is no better place to bat in limited overs cricket than at the top, and both have had some success there. Rohit has the additional qualification of being a fine finisher when in form, though I am not sure he would want that to come in the way of batting at the top! These two one-dayers might point towards a solution, but I won't be surprised if Rohit is batting at No. 4 or 5 in 2015. That team though, will only have 15!

tabla@sph.com.sg


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