By Karthik Parimal
There weren’t many surprises in the 15-member One-Day International (ODI) squad that was announced to tour Sri Lanka. Five changes were made to the squad that was picked for the Asia Cup a few months ago. However, these changes weren’t unexpected. The return of a few experienced players, alongside the infusion of some young blood in the bowling department makes this team look a formidable one on paper. Only time will tell if this team can overcome an equally strong Sri Lankan side in the latter’s backyard. The good news is that India’s recent record against Sri Lanka has been good; the bad news is that India have fared miserably playing away from home in the last one year.
Let us now have a closer look as to what changes were made to this Indian side for the upcoming tour of Sri Lanka.
Sachin Tendulkar’s exclusion
After Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar was India’s leading run-getter in the Asia Cup campaign that ended on a sour note for the World Cup champions. By scoring his hundredth 100 in that series, Tendulkar got the monkey off his back. It’s only appropriate that he sidesteps and makes way for youngsters for less-important tours such as this one. A lot has been discussed previously on whether he should still feature in the limited-overs side, but we shall not get into that debate now.
It is a known fact that Tendulkar will not be a part of the Twenty20 (T20) team that will revisit Sri Lanka for the World Cup in September, and hence it was a right move by the Little Master to make himself unavailable, thereby making way for a youngster like Ajinkya Rahane. This is a good thing because Rahane has now been presented with an opportunity to familiarise himself with the conditions there, since he could, by all means, be an integral part of that T20 team that will tour Sri Lanka again.
Zaheer Khan is a seasoned campaigner and his services were truly missed in the bowling department during the Asia Cup. None of the bowlers could make their presence felt in that forgettable series and none of them could manage an overall economy rate of fewer than 5.20 during that tournament. His inclusion in the side will be a shot in the arm for India. And if other speedsters like Umesh Yadav and Ashok Dinda can provide Zaheer the right kind of assistance from the other end, India could do well to restrict the Sri Lankans on a consistent basis. But Zaheer is not going to be around for a long time, and it’s important for the Indian think-tank not to lose sight of that fact. Other young bowlers must be continuously groomed.
Virender Sehwag made merry with the bat in the recently-concluded fifth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). His presence will definitely bolster India’s top order. Not just Sehwag, Gambhir too appeared in brilliant knick with the bat in the Indian Premier League (IPL). If these two superstars could get the side off to a flyer on a regular basis in this series, the Indians would be unstoppable. However, it will be interesting to see how quickly both these openers adapt to the ODI format. Sehwag’s last few outings in Indian colours have not been that pleasant, and one hopes that he turns things around for himself and for India as quickly as possible.
The inclusion of Pragyan Ojha
He is one spinner who got fewer chances than he actually deserved. Whenever he’s been picked to play for India, Ojha has made his presence felt. In 14 Tests and 16 ODIs, Ojha has grabbed 62 and 20 wickets respectively. In and out of the side, he has hardly had the time to settle down and get familiar with his role in the Indian side. However, it’s up to him how he makes use of this current opportunity. He’ll have only himself to blame if he doesn’t carve a niche with his performance in this series. But whether Ojha will feature in the side for all five ODIs, especially with the presence of Ravichandran Ashwin and Rahul Sharma in the squad, is a big question.
The axe on underperforming all-rounders
Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja – these three all-rounders not only had a poor Asia Cup, but also failed to impress in IPL 5. Praveen Kumar, too, can be added to that list. Their exclusion from the squad to tour Sri Lanka may also imply that these players could find it hard to find a spot in the side for the upcoming T20 World Cup. Unless a few from the current Indian line-up perform extremely poorly against Sri Lanka, all doors appear closed for these underperforming all-rounders.
However, there is a possibility that Irfan Pathan could have added more value to this Indian side than Vinay Kumar. Both are medium-pacers who rely heavily on swing to trouble the opposition, but Irfan’s ability with the bat is well known. He could have been a handy customer down the order.
It remains to be seen if this Indian side can finally put an end to a string of defeats that they’ve encountered on overseas soil.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. His zeal for writing and love for the sport of cricket is what has brought him here. Karthik can also be followed on Twitter)