Harbhajan Singh (left) and Gautam Gambhir have found themselves out of the Indian setup in recent times © AFP
Harbhajan Singh and Gautam Gambhir were selected in the Rest of India squad for the Irani Cup 2014 against Ranji Trophy winners Karnataka. Their inclusion proves that the selectors still have them in their sights and are willing to offer them more opportunities to get back into the Indian team. Shrikant Shankar writes…
When India won the ICC Champions Trophy 2013, they were seen as the favourites to win the ICC World Cup 2015. They won an exciting One-Day International (ODI) series against Australia at home and everything looked rosy till that point. Then they lost 0-2 to South Africa away in the ODIs and impressed despite losing 0-1 in the subsequent Test series. A hard-fought ODI series against New Zealand was to follow, but a 0-4 score-line flatters no one. Through all this, the Indian bowling has been very poor. But in the last series, the batting has been exposed a bit too.
At home, India are bullies when it comes to batting. It is not the same situation away from home. Good fast bowling has always been India’s bane and they are sure to face faster and better bowling attacks in the World Cup than New Zealand’s. The spin department has not looked all that great. Ravichandran Ashwin is not the same bowler away from home and Ravindra Jadeja does not seem as a player capable of running through the opposition batting line-ups on a regular basis. All of a sudden, India don’t seem to be the favourites to win the World Cup jointly hosted by New Zealand.
The Test series in South Africa might have seen a lot of positives, but it still does not change the fact that India have failed to win any of their last 11 matches in the longer format. At the start of that sequence, India were No 1 in Tests. The team MS Dhoni has at his disposal is young and relatively inexperienced. He is the most experienced player in the dressing room after Zaheer Khan. The left-arm seamer was recently added in the Indian Test team. The selectors did not have any worries picking Zaheer, who is well past his best, for the national side.
And by now selecting Harbhajan Singh and Gautam Gambhir in the Rest of India squad for the Irani Cup 2014, the selectors have shown that they are not afraid to give opportunities to the older lot. One Irani Cup match cannot determine whether Harbhajan and Gambhir would play against India. While a good showing may not lead to anything in the immediate future, a poor one might push their names back a bit. Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh were not included in the squad to face Ranji Trophy 2013-14 champions Karnataka in Bangalore from February nine onwards.
Gambhir was in relatively decent touch with the bat as he scored 578 runs in seven games at an average of 48.16 in the Ranji Trophy. Harbhajan was not all that impressive with the ball. But still the selectors included him and made him captain. What this goes to show is that the selectors want to keep the young Indian squad on their toes and not rest on past glories. To defend their World Cup crown, India would need all that experience. And hence the inclusions of the Harbhajan and Gambhir makes sense. Sunil Gavaskar also recently said that all was not lost for the senior players.
Harbhajan too is past his prime and one could argue that his selection might just be to give Ashwin and Jadeja a kick up their backside. Gambhir’s selection makes more sense, as India need an experienced batsman in the team. The long transition was completed when India won the Champions Trophy, but that does not mean one can’t go back to seniors and select them. Important global events and away tours await India in the near future. There is still a long way to go before the start of the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, but one has to start now in preparation. India certainly have!
(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)