This is being written a few minutes before the start of the 1st ODI between India and West Indies at Nagpur. India has 8 games (4 against the Windies and 4 against Sri Lanka) to fine tune their preparations for the World Cup. And I must say I do not quite like the way they have started this journey... A few things are right, but not all of it, in my view.
The team composition just doesn't look right. The balance is just not there.
I do hope they lose, for this will make them go back to the drawing board.
India has gone in with:
Gautham Gambhir, Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, K. K. D. Karthik, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Sree Sreesanth, Zaheer Khan.
Joginder Sharpa, Robin Uthappa, Romesh Pawar and R.P. Singh have been left out.
What is wrong?
In my view, we should not open with Gambhir and Ganguly. In his pre-match interview, Dravid said that India has gone in with Ganguly and Gambhir (a left-left combination) to nullify the Windies opening bowlers. Why does that matter? They should have their eye on the World Cup and cannot afford Gambhir carrying out an opportunistic cementing of his place! [Note: Good luck to Gambhir if he does cement his place with a quick-fire 50 or so].
What India needs is a right-left explosive opening partnership. In the absence of Uthappa, they should have gone in with a Dhoni-Ganguly opening partnership. My crystal ball says Gambhir will make a quick 50 or so and they will be stuck with him till the World Cup.
I also do not think they should go with just 4 bowlers. It looks like Ganguly-Tendulkar-Raina will bowl out the 5th bowlers' quota of 10 overs. The balance is not right. The time was ripe to blood Joginder Sharma. In the absence of an out of form Irfan Pathan, they should have played in Joginder Sharma in the remaining games. They may have missed the boat on this. Again, my fear-stricken crystal ball says that the Ganguly-Tendulkar-Raina combination may bowl 10 overs for 20 and get 3 wickets. This may make the team stick with this combination for the remaining games.
I can see egg and faces from a mile!
However, the basics are there. It is, in my view, right for Tendulkar to drop further down the order. This is a bold move and a move that is to be applauded. I feel that he will stabilise the middle-overs. It is right for Ganguly to open. It is just not right for Dravid to come in at #3 (which is how the team sheet has been announced). Tendulkar or Dhoni or Karthik should come in at #3.
I am hoping for a Gambhir failure. I am hoping for a Karthik failure (get Joginder in please). And I am hoping for a Tendulkar-Ganguly-Raina (5th bowler) failure. And I am hoping India loses badly to make the management go back to the drawing board. However, I feel I will be proved wrong -- unfortunately. I may not get my wishes... But one lives in hope.
However, it was nice to see Dravid's attitude in a Cricinfo interview. Unlike past captains, he admitted that there were a few glitches. He indicated that the team was not quite the finished book. He indicated that Sachin Tendulkar would bat further down the order. He straight-talked on Sehwag. He said, "[Sehwag] when playing well, when he's in a good state of mind mentally and physically, is an asset. Sometimes, playing games helps but sometimes a bit of time off - switching off mentally - can be beneficial as well. The selectors have taken a decision and we need to respect that... sometimes being away from the game can do you a world of good. As far as I see it, the best players must go to the World Cup - in terms of form and fitness. It's not reputations that we need to go by." Straight-talking here. He's left a door open for Sehwag, perhaps? But one door is certainly shut.
He was clear on his own form too. He did not duck like an Azharuddin. He did not stutter like a Tendulkar. He did not play verbal-gymnastics or politics and sweet-talk like a Ganguly. He hit it straight down the middle. He said, "When I've got runs, it's made a difference to the side. I was happy with my form till I broke my finger in South Africa. But it was a strange tour for me. It's not easy to miss four weeks in the middle of the tour and then to come back. Things didn't go as well as I would have liked in the Tests as well. In a close series, one key innings can change the series. It's not about the number of runs or averages. It's about getting the critical innings when it matters. It didn't happen but we need to pull up our socks and move on."
He then made it clear -- in what can be seen by Sehwag, Yuvraj, Kumble and Pathan as a clear indication that time is ticking dangerously -- that there were only a few cogs in the World Cup selection-wheel that needed to be set right. He said, "We're very close to identifying key players for the World Cup squad. You must have a key group and we've identified them a while back. There have been a few form blips, a few fitness issues - obviously some spots available for selection - but we have a good idea of our plans."
More straight-talk... More power to him.