The Indian cricket season is over and it’s time for Indian Premiere League (IPL) 2014. The 2013 season was a mix of good and forgettable memories. The season started with the overseas tours and the first in the list was the Champions Trophy (CT) in England which was the unforgettable experience for Team India. Winning it for the second time after 2002, having remained undefeated in the tournament, India announced their run of success on overseas tours. The next on the list was the tri-series in Caribbean and Indian stamped their authority there as well. Zimbabwe was expected to be an easiest tour for Men in Blue and it proved to be the same. India whitewashed the minnows on their home turf.
The overseas success continued on home soil and India beat mighty Australians 3-2 in tightly contested series. India had yet to play Test matches in the 2013 season. The confident Indian side were all set to play their first Test of the season against the West Indies. It was also the final Test series for Sachin Tendulkar and India gave him the terrific farewell by whitewashing the Windies. The winning sequence finally halted on the South African tour where Men in Blue lost 2-0 in three-match ODI series.
The Indians were expected to come hard and do well in Test series and they started off in the similar fashion. But, the overseas demon once again played the spoilsport and India lost the series 1-0. This was perhaps the start of series of losses in both formats and India went down heavily in Kiwi land as well. All these losses overshadowed all the good work the Indians had done in the recent past. Still there were chances for them to bounce back by winning the Asia Cup and World T-20. But, the mix of bad performances and changed line-up cost them dearly in Asia Cup. Though they reached the finals of World T-20 in style, they failed to win the title.
Now, it’s time for the IPL and the entire focus has shifted to this home league and it is a chance to see some young talent. Also it gives an opportunity to older players to get back into the form and try to come back in the Indian team. But here is a question: Does their good performance earn them a place in the side? And if yes, will they play for India immediately? These two and many similar questions have been raised time and again on the selection policy and the bench strength of the team.
It is notworthy that many youngsters are knocking the doors of Team India. Many of them were lucky to be picked up in the 16-member squad but haven’t been lucky enough to get a game. Moreover, the selectors always talk about the rotation policy but it has not been implemented properly. The last year’s CT squad had players like Murali Vijay, Irfan Pathan, Vinay Kumar and Amit Mishra but all these players were carried by the team without giving them any chance.
In the Caribbean tour India again picked Murali Vijay and Irfan Pathan along with Ambati Rayudu but only Vijay got to play some games. The next was the slightly easier tour of Zimbabwe and hence the seniors opted out. This was a golden moment to give chances to the youngsters and test the bench strength. The 15-member squad was full of new faces and it seemed everyone would get a game for sure. But, the Indian team went in without changing the line-up for the first three games out of five. Many players like Rahane, Mohit Sharma and Pujara played one or two matches. But, the off spinner from Jammu and Kashmir Parvez Rasool was carried by the team without giving him a single chance.
Even in the New Zealand tour Team India failed on this aspect. Former skipper Dilip Vengsarkar slammed the team management: “It is strange that (Cheteswar) Pujara is being kept out. There appears to be a lack of vision among the selectors. The team management appears stubborn when it comes to trying out new players. Why are the same set of bowlers being played and ground to dust? How long will they back the same underperforming batsmen? What is the role of the coach and bowling coach?”
Not just Pujara, even the tall lanky fast bowler Ishwar Pandey from Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, was picked for Test and ODI series against Kiwis but hasn’t been given a single chance. Also some of our senior players like Dhoni and Yuvraj are about 32-33 years old; they will play for another two-three years and afterwards we need to look for their replacement. Do we have any replacement for Dhoni as a wicketkeeper, batsman and captain right now? Can we trust Rahane, Rayudu or Karthik just the same as we trust Yuvraj in the middle order?
With the 50-over World Cup is round the corner, all the major teams are preparing almost two teams—playing eleven and the bench strength—whereas Team India are still struggling to find a proper playing eleven. Many teams like Australia, England and South Africa started a new concept of having three different teams for three formats. This way they not just prepare bench strength but also give youngsters a fair chance and by the time they get picked up for a big match they already have experience. One hopes the BCCI and selectors would understand the importance of giving fair chances to youngsters and giving rest to seniors at the same time. The only way India could do well in 2015 World Cup is to have a good combination of players, fully fit and in right frame of mind.
By Sorabh Aggarwal