The only surprise omission in the Indian squad announced for the 2019 cricket world cup is Rishabh Pant. Other than that, it is a fairly balanced squad with a rare luxury of three all-rounders and two wrist spinners, something no Indian team had access to in the past.
Before the squad for the world cup in England was announced, there were just two key questions in mind. One, who will bat for India at number 4. And two, who would be the ideal backup for Mahendra Singh Dhoni. For many, Pant appeared to be the best answer to both the questions because of his swashbuckling batting and wicket-keeping skills. But, it appears that the selectors picked up Dinesh Karthik as the stand-in keeper because of his superior skills behind the wickets and the ability to finish games.
The next world cup would be played on pitches that support seamers, especially when the sky is overcast. Keeping in mind the bowler-friendly conditions, selectors have gone with KL Rahul as the probable choice for the crucial No 2 slot because of his experience as an opener. Though Rahul had a miserable tour of England past year, selectors were impressed by his form in the ongoing IPL.
Indian selectors, history suggests, have always been slightly conservative in their choices for a world cup squad. Unlike Pakistan, where raw talent gets the nod above a finished product, Indians like to play it safe. The strategy has both its advantages and drawbacks. In 1991, for instance, Pakistan picked up a rookie, Inzamam ul Haq, for the world cup. With two blistering innings in the knock-out stages, Inzamam single-handedly won the world cup for Pakistan.
Before the 1999 world cup, India had a similar opportunity to pick up a player with raw talent — Virendra Sehwag. But, he was overlooked that year to accommodate veterans like Azharuddin, Vinod Kambli and Robin Singh, all of whom failed to perform to our expectations. The short point: Sometimes the shock and awe of having a player with the X factor works more than the security of an experienced player.
Though Pant has that X-factor — and, as his fans point out, variegated skills that include babysitting — many experts argue Pant prefers cross-bat shots at the start of his innings. This makes him vulnerable to bowlers who can make the ball move. Also, unlike in Test matches, Pant has so far not lived up to expectations in the shorter versions of the game. His poor wicket-keeping in recent games cost India the series against Australia. All these factors may have led to his omission from the team. Remember the old adage — catches win matches?
But, India’s chances, with or without Pant, look good on paper. The squad has Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, who together comprise the best top order in the world. In Jasprit Bumrah it boasts of the most lethal fast bowler in any format of the game today. And in Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav — Kulcha — the most delicate exponents of spin bowling. The perfect blend of youth and experience — nine players were part of the previous world cup — will leave for England with a lot of promise.
For many players, the world cup is the perfect opportunity to leave their stamp on the game — for Kohli as the captain; for Rohit and Dhawan as, perhaps, the best opening pair; for Vijay Shankar and Kul-Cha as the new faces of Indian cricket; and for Dhoni as a legend whom age and time couldn’t diminish. Over to them, then.