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February 26, 1999

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First cut!

Harsha Bhogle

It might seem a simple process of elimination, but for some significant players, the announcement of a shortlist of 19 will bring with it hope and despair in equal measure.

This is when the selectors will first reveal their mind, for I have little doubt that barring one or two players, the final team for the World Cup is ready.

The only real issue was the fitness of Ajit Agarkar and Vinod Kambli, and with both having submitted certificates, the ball is in the selectorsí court. There is no doubt at all that Agarkar will make the cut, but you can be sure that there will be a lot of debate over the inclusion of Vinod Kambli.

He was captain of Mumbai this year and sadly for him, they didnít qualify for the super league; another example of how cricket deals with those that take things for granted. As a result, the selectors have very little to go by and this is one selection that will be based on intuition rather than on form. Kambli has another two months to get match fit, but whether the selectors take the risk remains to be seen.

I suspect they wonít, because they have three other left handers with pretty impressive credentials to consider. Sadagoppan Ramesh would not have been on too many short lists when the original team of 30 was announced. Now, he must be considered a very serious candidate, especially if the opening pair of Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar comes under pressure.

With the feeling among experts that big totals will be made in the last twenty, rather than the first fifteen, overs, there might be a temptation to play Tendulkar at number three. Iím not sure it is a great idea, but it is a good insurance to have.

Hrishikesh Kanitkar had a good series against the West Indies `Aí, and given that the World Cup may not be a big one for spinners, there is the possibility that he might make the second spinnerís spot ahead of Nikhil Chopra. As a batsman he is correct, a very strong qualification in England, and he has picked up some blinders in the last few games. He would be a handy player to have, and the fact that this World Cup allows 15 players rather than the traditional 14 might work in his favour.

That, I fear makes it a straight contest between Amay Khurasia and Vinod Kambli. Khurasia has done everything right this year and the selectors need to provide an answer to why he wasnít tried in New Zealand. There is a feeling that he might not be quite the player when confronted by a moving ball than he is on the dead tracks in India where he nonchalantly hits through the line. But having held him back from his only qualifying examination, the selectors need to go by what they will see in the triangular series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. That only begins on the 19th of March, and they will have to keep their options open for it will be cruel to deny him an opportunity.

I believe Khurasia is ready to play for India in the limited overs game, and that if he is not picked now, he will be lost. There is not much more that he can do.

Given that six other batsmen pick themselves (Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and Robin Singh), it will make it very difficult for the selectors to put in another batsman in their shortlist. Unless of course, they decide that there isnít place for three spinners in the party and so restrict themselves to only two in their shortlist. If that happens, then Sunil Joshi will go out and the selectors can take another look at Kambli.

There is one other possibility. Since there is no competition for Nayan Mongiaís place in the final squad, the team of 19 might only contain one wicketkeeper. There is, I believe, a provision in the laws to replace a player with one outside the shortlist in case of injury, and therefore it might just make sense to pick only one wicketkeeper. Neither MSK Prasad of Andhra, nor Saba Karim of Bengal, have done too much behind the stumps that is remarkable, though Karimís outstanding batting form this season might allow him to slip in.

With four fast bowlers sure to go to England, the selectors would be looking to pick a total of five. The choice of Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad and Agarkar is a formality, and Laxmi Rattan Shuklaís all-round, but sadly untested, skills will give him a fourth place. Debashish Mohanty and Dodda Ganesh will contest the fifth place, and it seems, from whatever we have seen so far, that Mohanty is a nose ahead. That is sad because Ganesh has bowled beautifully this year, and if he is wondering how Ashish Nehra got picked ahead of him for the Test in Sri Lanka, then he has some company.

Anil Kumble is the number one spinner, and Chopra will certainly get in as the second after encouraging performances in New Zealand. I suspect Sunil Joshi will be the third if the selectors want one, though it might only be an exercise in providing hope.

Sadly, I donít see place for VVS Laxman, which is a huge tragedy because I am convinced that he is the best young middle order batsman in the country. We must be the only team in the world where the opening batsman waits for the spinners to warm up!

Here then is my vote for the final 19: Tendulkar, Ganguly, Ramesh, Dravid, Azharuddin, Jadeja, Robin Singh, Khurasiya, Kanitkar, Kambli, Mongia, Srinath, Prasad, Agarkar, Shukla, Mohanty, Kumble, Joshi and Chopra.

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