A strong bench strength will help India dominate ODIs

The Indian team have performed well, but in order to prepare for the worst, it is critical that the selectors invest in a few youngsters © Getty Images

Following India’s successful run in the recently-concluded ICC Champions Trophy, the euphoria that followed was imminent, especially given the state Indian cricket was in just before the tournament started. Aayush Puthran explains why it is critical for Indian selectors to give enough matches to the untested talented youngsters against quality opposition in order to enjoy the luxury of selection while picking the team for the ICC World Cup 2015 and avoid a situation that a team like South Africa found itself in during the ICC Champions Trophy 2013.

One of the features of the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 victory that would have certainly delighted Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the Indian selectors would have been the contributions of each and every member in the team, who combined well as a unit and fired in unison. There were no noticeable weaknesses in the unit and Indians were the team to beat after their convincing margin of victory in every match barring the final. Even in the final the team didn’t give up and believed in themselves and pulled off an incredible heist.

However, there are several small loopholes that need to be filled if India have truly started their preparations for the 2015 World Cup. Amid all the celebrations of having found a perfect team, it can be easy to forget that the replacements aren’t as good.

To start with, the success of openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma has played a major role in India’s triumph. However, it is important to note that injury to either of them or a string of poor scores can cause serious alarms in the Indian ranks. Murali Vijay, the first choice replacement, hasn’t done anything noteworthy to be trusted upon. The selectors’ failure to back the young Ajinkya Rahane has worsened the scenario for an able replacement in the absence of Rohit and Dhawan.

Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Dhoni have been regulars in the India One-Day International side and would continue to hold the key for their fortune in the coming years. Their presence gives a sense of calm guarantee to the team. Nonetheless, it is important that their fitness is not compromised with, given the hectic international schedule that is in place. On the other hand, Dinesh Karthik would have to prolong his run of good form if he has to continue to keep his place in the side. Manoj Tiwary’s continued presence on the bench is as frustrating as it is assuring. But, Tiwary being sidelined with yet another injury, isn’t helping his cause.

India’s pace attack comprising Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma seemed to relish the opportunity given to them in English conditions. However, one cannot rule out the possibility of an injury hampering them anytime, if India’s recent history of fast bowlers is an indicator. India had Irfan Pathan and Vinay Kumar as well in the Champions Trophy squad, but their performance in the warm-up games offered little consolation. Zaheer Khan has done well after his return from injury, but he is coming too close to his twilight to be relied upon. Nonetheless, a lot more can be expected from Varun Aaron and Shami Ahmed, if fit.

Currently, spin seems to be the only department where India has enough depth and reserves. Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin’s ability to put the breaks on the scoring and strike consistently was one of the striking features of India’s bowling.

It would be a decision in the right direction if they choose to stick with the same players for the next big ICC tournament. However, in order to prepare for the worst, it is critical that the selectors invest in a few youngsters starting from Unmukt Chand and Baba Aparajith, especially given the temperament they showed while playing in Australia. They need to be well prepared to face the pressures of international level attacks going into the World Cup. Playing them or other fringe players against minor oppositions like Zimbabwe won’t exactly serve the purpose either. While doing so, they also need to reassess the future roles of Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Zaheer and Harbhajan.

Offering a chance to them to test their mettle at the international stage would not only give them exposure, but also allow enough and desperately needed rest to players like Dhoni, Raina, Kohli, Jadeja and Ashwin, who play throughout the year and across formats.

It would certainly help avoid a situation that South Africa finds itself in, where their inexperience was exposed in the Champions Trophy after seniors like Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel were unavailable for various reasons.

India’s current form offers a lot of hope and joy. But in midst of all these positives, a little retrospection on the loopholes and long-term planning can help India emerge a much stronger team in coming years.

(Aayush Puthran is a reporter with CricketCountry. Mercurially jovial, pseudo pompous, perpetually curious and occasionally confused, he is always up for a light-hearted chat over a few cups of filter kaapi!)