The Indian selectors would meet on July 4 to select the squad for the tour to Sri Lanka. Sachin Tendulkar’s availability is the biggest question as it can affect some other selections. Nishad Pai Vaidya discusses the contenders for the batsmen’s spot in the Indian team for the tour to Sri Lanka.
It has been a tough journey since the high of the 2011 World Cup as the Indian team’s performance slid to a new nadir. The recent struggles of the India A batsmen in the Caribbean have intensified those concerns as some of India’s most promising players flopped badly. On Wednesday, July 4, the selectors meet to pick the squad for the One-Day International (ODI) series against Sri Lanka with a number of tricky questions before them.
A look at the batsmen who could make the cut for the tour to Sri Lanka:
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina would be the certainties in the batting department as they have been regulars in India’s recent one-day assignments. Virender Sehwag was “rested” for the Asia Cup, but made a strong statement during the Indian Premier League (IPL). The brilliant form that he showed in the last IPL should help him force his way into the one-day team. An in-form Sehwag is ominous for the opposition.
The uppermost question on everybody’s mind: Will Sachin Tendulkar make himself available for the tour? The maestro returned to the one-day fold in Australia - his first ODI tourney since the World Cup - and also played in the Asia Cup. The painstaking wait for hundredth international ton came to an anti-climatic end in a defeat to Bangladesh at the Asia Cup. In the next game against Pakistan, Tendulkar played fluently and it was evident that the monkey was off his back. However, the IPL wasn’t a very productive outing by his standards. So questions remain not just about his availability but also his form.
It has become abundantly clear that the 39-year old Tendulkar has no intentions of quitting the shorter formats to prolong his Test career as he continues to enjoy both. But to what extent does that impact India’s plans for the 2015 World Cup? Some of the youngsters are being looked at as long-term solutions to build a strong roster. Such one-off series’ – ones that don’t have any real context – are probably the ideal opportunities to give the youngsters a long run. Again, if they perform in these games, their spots in the team aren’t guaranteed – Ajinkya Rahane and Manoj Tiwary being cases in point. Will Tendulkar opt out of the tour or would the selectors ‘rest’ him?
Rohit Sharma has been fantastic for India since the end of the 2011 World Cup and displayed his match-winning abilities on more than an occasion. The Australian tour was a tough experience as he warmed the bench during the Test series and was a bit rusty during the ODIs. In epic encounter against Pakistan during the Asia Cup, Kohli stole the show with a whirlwind hundred and it was Rohit who gave him solid support. During the IPL he continued to perform well, but ran into some indifferent form in the ongoing A tour to the Caribbean. Despite that failure, the selectors are likely to reaffirm faith in him and include him in the squad.
The arguments for Rahane’s selection into the Indian team are overwhelming, to say the least. The right-hander was absolutely brilliant during the IPL and gave ample evidence of his prodigious talent. His classical approach to batting in the shortest format won the hearts of purists. Throughout the tournament, Rahane played by the textbook and didn’t hit a shot in anger. One can say that he got a raw deal earlier this year when he was axed from the ODI squad as he had impressed in his limited opportunities for India. He is in the Caribbean and hasn’t had a good time like most of his teammates, but found form in the last few games.
Through all that, Tiwary cuts a very intriguing figure. Having scored a brilliant hundred at Chennai against West Indies late last year, the Bengal batsman hasn’t donned the blue jersey again. Despite the repeated failures of the Indian batting line-up in Australia, the team management kept him out and continued to treat him like a stop-gap option. Over the last few years, his six ODI appearances have been sporadic and came as back-ups for a particular player. The hundred at Chennai promised to change things for him – something that hasn’t happened yet. This time around, it looks like his selection would depend on other dynamics. Perhaps Tendulkar and Sehwag’s availability would decide Tiwary’s fate.
Apart from these players, Cheteshwar Pujara and Shikhar Dawan would be the other contenders. Pujara had a fantastic time in the unofficial Test series against West Indies A and has built a reputation as a run-machine. It looks like he has been branded as a longer version specialist and the one-day cap looks distant in the presence of more swashbuckling players. Dhawan, on the other hand was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing campaign for the Deccan Chargers. He too has struggled in the Caribbean and his previous outings for India don’t inspire a lot of confidence.
Through all that, Mandeep Singh may be a dark horse in the race. The Punjab batsman was the Rising star of the IPL 2012 and impressed with his solid technique and sound temperament. He was unfortunate to miss out on the A tour to the Caribbean and even the late call-up as a replacement for the injured Robin Bist didn’t materialise.
Sri Lanka is a formidable side, particularly at home and are coming off a comprehensive series win over Pakistan. While there is an urgent need to play some of the youngsters, it is imperative to field the strongest side in the emerald isle. However, what is India’s strongest combination? That is the biggest question before the selectors.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)