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A Tough Challenge Ahead Of Dhoni’s Men

Updated: February 5, 2011 1:10 pm

If money can buy everything then India has already won the Cricket World Cup. The most expensive team in the international cricket, India led by MS Dhoni will begin its campaign for the coveted trophy, taking on minnows Bangladesh at Dhaka on February 19.

                The 15-member Indian squad comprises seven batsmen, one all-rounder, four pacers and three spinners:          MS Dhoni (C), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Yusuf Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Praveen Kumar, Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin and Piyush Chawla.

                Batsman Rohit Sharma, pacer Sreesanth and spinner Pragyan Ojha were notable exclusion. Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir—despite being injured, have been picked up and selectors seemed to be very confident that the trio will be fully fit before the Cup starts.

                The inclusion of only seven batsmen in the squad shows that the selectors wanted a full-fledged bowling department. However amongst the spinners’ inclusion of Piyush Chawla at the expense of Pragyan Ojha comes as a surprise as the former last played an ODI back in 2008, and has never played one on Indian soil. The pace department includes Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel and Praveen Kumar who is also injured. Sreesanth exclusion has upset many. Murali Vijay, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra and Cheteswar Pujara were some of the other players who failed to find favour.

                India is clubbed in Group B alongside Bangladesh, England, South Africa, West Indies, Ireland and The Netherlands. KSrikanth, who heads the five-member national selection panel commented after picking up the team. “This is the best possible winning combination we have picked up which will win us the World Cup. We (selectors) engaged in thorough discussions at the meeting here before finalising the squad.” He added, “This particular Indian team is doing brilliantly for the past couple of years in both Test and ODI cricket. They are playing consistently not only in India but outside as well.” He brushed aside concerns over fitness of the players, saying: “Every team has injury concerns. Why worry about it?” adding it is a well-balanced team had been picked up keeping in mind the ground and wicket conditions in the sub-continent.

                Interestingly only six of the players—Dhoni, Tendulkar, Sehwag, Harbhajan Raina and Gambhir—were retained by their IPL team franchisees while other nine were picked up by the team owners at a total price of over Rs 50 crore. And it is said that the six retained players will be given more money than what they have already been getting. That will take the total price tag of this squad to over mind boggling sum of Rs 80 to 90 crore. Now this team has been entrusted the job of regaining the World Cup, which the country won way back in 1983. After that in the next six World Cups India’s story has been sometime sublime but mostly ridiculed. India in between also hosted the cup twice (1987 and 1996) and the then much-hyped squads failed to deliver. The Best achieved was in 2003 when India made it to the final before being thrashed by Australia in South Africa. The humiliation came in 2007 in West Indies when they failed to make it to the super league as they lost to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and scored only victory against Bermuda.

                However, much water has flown in last four years, India has become number one team in the world cricket, and in the last three years, IPL has changed the face of the Game. “The cricketers who play in IPL earn more money in one month than what we made in our two decades of playing career,” said former Pakistan Captain Imran Khan at a function in New Delhi recently. India, on paper, start huge favourite against their Eastern neighbour but they cannot take things for granted. They are painfully aware of the 2007 humiliation when they were knocked out in the preliminary stage by Bangladesh.

                The opener of the 10th edition of the cup thus promises to be cracker of a match with host team backed by vociferous crowd will go all out hoping for a repeat of the last edition Bangladesh have nothing to lose and everything to gain, but for India they must kick start their title hunt with a win. This time the expectations are huge, which will put the homeside under a lot of pressure to win the World Cup. The team is good, especially the batting order with Sehwag and Tendulkar in good form. Gambhir, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Raina in middle order and Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan and Zaheer in the rear, makes India a formidable contender for the title.

                However experts feel area of concerns for the team that there is no backup all-rounder or wicketkeeper. Indian bowling will be in the hands of Zaheer and Harbhajan, assisted by pacers among Munaf, Nehra and Praveen Kumar. The decision two have two extra spinners—Ashwin and Chawla have also raised eyebrows, when only one spinner will be playing, with Raina, Yuvraj, Pathan and even Sachin bowling useful spin, whenever needed. But most of the critics agree that this is the best possible team to represent the country. The team is well balanced with a good mix of experience and youth.

                There are several players—as proved in recent series—who can be game-changers for the side. The Dhoni-led squad do better than 2003 because this team has emerged as a successful cohesive unit. Another team which will be watched with utmost interest is Pakistan. The country was one of the joint hosts for this World Cup but due to security reasons, the International Cricket Council (ICC) decided not to hold any matches there.

                Still that team is a crowd puller and creates lot of upsets and surprises. Pakistan is perhaps the most unpredictable side in the world cricket. They can play like a champion one day and next day can be beaten by a club side.They have also picked up their side, but have not named their captain.

                The team does not include three tainted players—Salman Butt, Mohd Asif and Mohd Aamir. The selectors have also ignored the veteran Muhammad Yusuf along medium pacer Tanvir Ahmed. “Selectors have gone for blend of youth and experience. There seniors and youngsters in the team. This is good combination,” former Test off-spinner Tauseef Ahmed said. “On the whole, this is a good team in absence of fast bowler Muhammad Aamir and Muhammad Asif,” former Chief Selector Salahuddin Ahmed said.

                There are only four survivors of 2007 World Cup team, which included Pakistan’s current One-day Captain Shahid Afridi, senior batsman Younis Khan, wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal and pace bowler Umer Gul. Former PCB Chief Executive Arif Ali Khan Abbasi was surprised at not naming the Captain for the World Cup.

                Pakistan squad: Muhammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq, Umer Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal (wicketkeeper), Abdul Razzaq, Abdur Rehman, Umer Gul, Sohail Tanvir, Shoaib Akhtar, Saeed Ajmal and Wahab Riaz. Another joint host Sri Lanka does not carry hype like India or Pakistan but they are very determined side.They are underdogs and that tag suits them.They are known for having unconventional match-winners.

                Lankan look like a strong unit. Lead by the stylish and flamboyant Sangakarra, the team has explosive batsmen like Jayawardene, Dilshan, Kapudegra and a strong bowling unit lead by Muralitharan and Malinga. They also have a quality all-rounder in Mathews, who has improved by leaps and bounds in the recent years.The last time the World Cup was held in the subcontinent, the Sri Lankans surprised everyone by winning it.

                Four time winner and defending champion Australia are going through a rough period and the aura of invincibility around them has vanished. Since 1996, they have made it to the finals every time and won thrice. This time though, the team looks a shadow of the team of last year and they miss Hayden, Gilchrist and Mcgrath. But they do have a lot of good players in their line up. Ricky Ponting’s form is a worry but Shane Watson is in great form. With the Hussey brothers in the middle along with Cameroon White, they still can spring a surprise. Their bowling attack is not as formidable as it used to be but with most of their bowlers, Johnson, Lee Bollinger and Shaun Tait are familiar with the subcontinent conditions. They have the pedigree and it will be interesting to see, if Ricky Ponting can inspire his team to win the title for the fourth-time running.

By Harpal Singh Bedi

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