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World Cup team: A horses for courses pick

January 17, 2011 19:43 IST

There was nothing surprising in the selection of India's final 15 for the upcoming World Cup. It was, says Bikash Mohapatra, done keeping the subcontinent wickets in mind.

This is the best possible winning combination we have picked up and it will win us the World Cup: Krish Srikkanth, the chairman of selectors.

Every four years, soon after selecting the team for the World Cup, the Indian selectors start the media briefing with the above-mentioned line.

Srikkanth simply said what he was expected to.

No surprises whatsoever. There were no surprises in the selected team either.

In fact, Srikkanth and his fellow-selectors -- Yashpal Sharma, Surendra Bhave, Narendra Hirwani and Raja Venkat -- even before their meeting in Chennai on Monday must have been aware that they had their task cut out.

The team had, more or less, selected itself, leaving little room for surprises. Monday's meeting was always going to be nothing more than an official announcement.

India's captain, MS Dhoni, for that matter, had been reiterating for the past few months that there won't be many surprises in the squad that has done so well in recent times.

'I think for the World Cup, fight is on for just one or two position as rest of the players will choose themselves,' Dhoni was quoted as saying quite frequently.

So, the captain himself, along with Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan were always certainties. 

Munaf Patel and Praveen Kumar made it on current form, and Ashish Nehra, thanks to his experience.

And the fact that the World Cup will be played on the subcontinent wickets validates the selection of the additional spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin, Piyush Chawla.

Some may argue that Pragyan Ojha merited a place as one of the spinners, but, then, he has been omitted. In fact, on second thoughts, the inclusion of Chawla, who last played in an ODI in July 2008, might as well be considered the lone surprise.

It is imperative to mention here that eight of 15 players selected have prior experience of playing in the flagship event. While seven of them - Dhoni, Tendulkar, Sehwag, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Munaf and Yuvraj - were part of the squad that suffered an ignominoos early exit in the West Indies (2007), Nehra was a member of the 2003 Cup squad that made it to the final.

As regards the notable omissions, well, suffice to say some of the players failed to strengthen their cases despite having got adequate time while the others were included simply to complete the list of probables.

Murali Vijay is, at the moment, a perfect substitute - to either of the openers (Tendulkar and Sehwag). Keeping him in the squad for a bilateral series - like he is at present in South Africa - can be explained as a need for alternatives.

However, the same explanation doesn't make sense when it comes to a World Cup squad. 

Tendulkar and Sehwag should (and will) open the batting for India in every match. In case of injuries to either, there's always an option of asking Gambhir, or, for that matter Kohli, to open the batting.

And that probably explains Vijay's omission.

Rohit Sharma is a case of opportunities missed. The Mumbai batsman has thus far got a plethora of chances but failed to capitalize on them.  The fact that he averages only 28.35, having played about 60-odd matches and that he has had more failures than success meant it was always going to be difficult for him. That he has been excluded is, therefore, in no way a surprise.

The exclusion (rather non-selection) of the other batsmen (all-rounders) - Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Saurabh Tiwary, Shikhar Dhawan and Ravindra Jadeja - in the probables' list, was, bluntly put, on expected lines.

The selectors also very wisely refrained from picking an additional wicketkeeper -- Dinesh Karthik, Parthiv Patel and Wriddhimaan Saha were in contention for the same. For a tournament as important as the World Cup, an additional 'keeper's slot is nothing more than a liability. Having an additional all-rounder instead serves the purpose better. 

As regards the bowlers, the notable omissions are Ojha, Sreesanth and Ishant

While Ojha's omission was a tad surprising -- considering the fact that he was in good form -- that of Sreesanth and Ishant, was again on expected lines.

Time and again, experts have opined that both of them aren't exactly cut out for one-day cricket. Both Sreesanth and Ishant are good Test bowlers and getting hit all around the park - when they do feature in ODIs - besides spoiling their respective bowling figures also dents their confidence in considerable measure. 

Conversely, Munaf and Kumar are far better one-day bowlers (yet to establish themselves at the Test level) and that makes their selection a good sign for the team's prospects.

As regards R Vinay Kumar and Amit Kumar, well, suffice to say they were again space fillers in the probables' list.

Now that 15-man squad has been selected, and the question regarding who will make the cut answered, there arises another question.

Can Dhoni and his men justify the selectors' faith?

It is imperative here to remind that before each World Cup India starts as favourites and eventually flatters to deceive. The result, the Men in Blue haven't been able to repeat that unexpected triumph of 1983.

Without going further back in history, one can simply cite India's performance as an example.

With Australia on a downward slide, South Africa being infamous chokers, Sri Lanka in indifferent form and Pakistan as unpredictable as ever, India was the favourite to lift the trophy.

The fans kept waiting - for the moment of triumph - in eager anticipation.

However, Rahul Dravid's team shocked the experts and the fans alike by succumbing to minnows Bangladesh in their tournament opener. Another loss against Sri Lanka meant they exited the tournament in the first stage, let alone win.

Four years on, nothing much has changed.

Australia is on the downslide again - probably far more drastic than in 2007; South Africa remain certified chokers - their loss to India at Wanderers recently reiterating the fact; Sri Lanka are short on confidence and Pakistan have more worries off the field than on it.

The expectations and unconditional support of the fans remains intact.

Add to that the fact that the tournament is being played on the subcontinent and Dhoni's men are in prime form going into the competition, and you have India as the clear favourites again.

Not to forget they open against Bangladesh.

Will Team India deliver or disappoint yet again?

This is the question that will be answered come February 19.