Ajinkya Rahane (left) and Varun Aaron © Getty Images.
Ajinkya Rahane (left) and Varun Aaron © Getty Images.


By Nishad Pai Vaidya


It’s just a few months ago that India won the ICC Cricket World Cup. But Indian cricket has plummeted dramatically since that epic victory. As India go into the One-Day International (ODI) series against England, Indian cricket fans need to bear in mind bitter realities to avoid more disappointment.


Not only the morale of the players is at its lowest following the 0-4 pounding they got in the Test series, but more pertinently the team that will play England in the ODIs is vastly different from the one that won the World Cup.


The destructive Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh — third and fourth highest run-getter for India in the 2011 World Cup — are not in the fray. There are still question marks over the fitness of Gautam Gambhir, India’s second highest run-getter in that tournament. Also missing would be Zaheer Khan – the joint highest wicket-taker in the tournament. India will also be missing their second highest wicket-taker and a key man in the attack, Yuvraj — named man of the tournament. Harbhajan, now a defensive bowler, will also be missing. He was behind Zaheer, Yuvraj, Munaf Patel in the list of wicket-takers for India.


The seven who did duty for India in the World Cup and now bear much of the responsibility in the ODI series ahead are captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar, Suresh Raina, Ravichandran Ashwin, Virat Kohli, Munaf Patel and Gambhir.


On the positive side, Praveen Kumar — part of the original World Cup squad but out due to injury — is there and in form. The likes of Rohit Sharma, Amit Mishra, Vinay Kumar and Parthiv Patel would like to capitalize on any opportunity they get during the tour so that they remain in contention for India’s next ODI assignment.


The presence of the experienced and in-form Rahul Dravid will help. A surprise choice, Dravid will be playing his farewell ODI series and will be looking to sign off on a high.


Apart from the 14 members discussed above, there are two young and promising players who would don the India jersey for the first time. Varun Aaron, the pace sensation from Jharkhand has been in the spotlight for months due to his ability to bowl fast. Ajinkya Rahane, the run-machine from Mumbai, has earned a call up after years of consistency at the domestic level and impressive performances for the A team.


Rahane’s name had been doing the rounds for quite some time now as he is technically sound and seems to be a batsman made for the classical format. He is very well balanced at the crease and plays all the shots in copybook fashion. One would have expected a Test call-up before an ODI selection, but nevertheless it is an opportunity to gain valuable international experience.


On the other hand, Aaron will travel to England to fulfill India’s hopes of a genuine fast bowler. He did well in the recently-concluded Emerging Players Tournament in Australia. But one must remember that he was selected for that tour because of the hype surrounding his pace and not his performance in the domestic season. It is good to see that the Indian selectors are prepared to take a chance by picking him for India, but they also have to ensure that they back him even after the end of the tour.


The Indian team management have to make sure that Aaron doesn’t suffer from two problems that a few promising fast bowlers have faced in the past. Firstly, they have to ensure that he doesn’t lose his pace and remains the tearaway he promises to be. Secondly, they have to ensure that he isn’t left out in the cold all too soon if he fails to impress.


India has always lacked a genuine fast bowler and whenever any youngster has shown the signs of being a tearaway, his pace has inevitably dropped. Munaf and Ishant Sharma were very fast when they made their respective debuts but have lost their pace over the years. It isn’t just that they have lost their pace but they lost it rapidly, which is even more worrying. Ishant can still bowl faster than his team-mates, but it is nowhere close to his pace during the Australia tour of 2007-08. VRV Singh, who wasn’t handled very well, disappeared from the radar.


The selectors have to keep in mind VRV Singh’s example so that they do not subject Aaron to the same fate. VRV came into the Indian team as a genuine quick bowler and impressed everyone in his five Tests, though he didn’t pick up too many wickets. His last Test was against Bangladesh in 2007 where he did decently well but was dropped for the next match of the series and never played again. Thereafter RP Singh and Ishant Sharma defeated him for the fast bowler’s spot and he could never get back to wearing the Test cap. He also wasn’t backed when it looked like he was finding his feet in Test cricket. On the tour to South Africa in 2006-07 he was dropped for the final Test to make way for Munaf Patel even after showing great promise in the two matches prior to it. His only Test after that was the one against Bangladesh. He also played two ODIs but was expensive and never got another opportunity in that arena.


It is difficult to see Rahane or Aaron playing in any of the ODIs as the squad has players who were a part of the World Cup team and also those who impressed in the West Indies. However, it is a fantastic opportunity to gain exposure to English conditions after a productive outing in Australia. The Indian set-up should remember that they are in the squad not just as replacements for Sehwag and Ishant but are there to be groomed to get ready for the highest level.


(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)