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Is this Indian team good enough to win the World T20?

February 05, 2016 18:13 IST

In opting for an extra spinner, says Harish Kotian/, India have picked a batsman less.

Manish Pandey

IMAGE: Manish Pandey, inexplicably dropped. Photograph: BCCI

In the space of a few days, Pawan Negi has gone from a relatively unknown domestic spinner to being touted as India's secret weapon for next month's World T20 at home.

With Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja doing well and veteran Harbhajan Singh part of the squad, it is surprising that the selectors picked a fourth spinner among the 15 selected for the tournament.

With Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, both more than capable part-time spinners, in the team, the inclusion of another spinner instead of a specialist batsman is puzzling.

As commentator Harsha Bhogle noted on Twitter: 'Clearly India have picked a team to play in spin-friendly conditions at the World T20. If tracks are indeed like that, have many options.'

In opting for an extra spinner, India have picked a batsman less by leaving out the in-form Manish Pandey.

Mohammed Shami is the third seamer in the squad, after Jasprit Bumrah and Ashish Nehra, but the Bengal pacer's fitness is under a cloud.

Shami hasn't played a single game since the World Cup last year and was included in the team for the Australian ODI and T20 series, but pulled out after another injury setback.

Negi can get a game only if a couple of specialist spinners find themselves on the injury list. He finds a place in the 15 as a spin all-rounder.

Which means he won't compete with Jadeja, the other left-arm spinner, but could come into the playing eleven in place of Hardik Pandya, who was preferred as the all-rounder in Australia, but may not be as effective on slow Indian wickets.

Negi, who plays for Delhi in domestic cricket, turned out for the Chennai Super Kings, led by India ODI and T20 captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in the last two IPL seasons, and that likely got him the attention of the folks-who-matter.

Pawan Negi

IMAGE: Left-arm spinner Pawan Negi. Two seasons at the Chennai Super Kings may have got him noticed. Photograph: BCCI

Negi hardly made an impact with the ball in the last IPL season, picking up only six wickets in 10 games, at an economy rate of more than eight. His ability to score quick runs with big hits in the final overs makes him quite a valuable player in the T20 format.

In the Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 tournament, the 23 year old performed better with the bat than ball. He claimed six wickets in nine games with a high economy rate, but made a good contribution with the bat, scoring 173 runs at an average of 86 and a strike rate of 173.

Left-arm spinner Axar Patel was named in India's ODI team for the Australia series, but failed to get a single game. He took a couple of wickets in the warm-up ODI and T20 games against Western Australia before the ODI series, but failed to break into the playing eleven.

It was Axar's all-round showing in the IPL in 2014 -- when playing for the Kings XI Punjab he claimed 17 wickets at an economy rate of 6.13 -- that got him selected for the Bangladesh tour in June 2014.

Axar bowled decently in the ODI series against South Africa, taking five wickets in four games. It was only in the last match in Mumbai, like all the other Indian bowlers, that he went for plenty of runs, conceding 65 in eight overs as the Proteas posted a mammoth 438/4 in their 50 overs.

Ajinkya Rahane in action for the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL in 2015.

IMAGE: Ajinkya Rahane in action for the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL in 2015. Photograph: BCCI

Equally surprising is the exclusion of Manish Pandey, who proved his pedigree with a match-winning century against Australia in the final ODI in Sydney last month. Manish hit an unbeaten 104 from 81 balls as India chased down a huge 331 to win by six wickets, with two balls to spare.

Despite that, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, who had an ordinary performance in the two ODIs he played Down Under, has got the nod ahead of Pandey for the T20 series as cover for Ajinkya Rahane, who was injured in Australia.

Despite consistent performances for the Kolkata Knight Riders, Pandey -- the first Indian to score a century in the IPL in 2009 -- failed to attract the selectors' attention till recently.

His match-winning 94 in the 2014 final against Kings XI Punjab enabled KKR win its second IPL title. Last year, as part of a second-string Indian squad on the tour of Zimbabwe, he scored 71 on his ODI debut.

Sandeep Patil, chairman of the selectors, justified Pandey's exclusion with a bizarre explanation. 'Manish Pandey has not been dropped,' Patil informed reporters. 'We discussed him. He is the future of the Indian team.' Whatever that means!

Rahane, who has recovered from an injury, was preferred ahead of Pandey.

The Mumbai batsman provides the team the option of playing him as an opener, a role he performed successfully for the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL.

India will have plenty of chances to test its players ahead of the World T20 in the three T20 matches coming up against Sri Lanka and the Asia Cup T20 tournament in Bangladesh.

India used the home advantage to good effect in 2011 and won the 50 overs World Cup. Few are betting against Dhoni's boys repeating that feat at the World T20,

Harish Kotian