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India's bunch of greenhorns add up to an unknown quanitity. Thy may spring a few surprises, says Dileep Premachandran
September 7, 2007
India's squad for the tournament represents the first real break from the legends' generation - Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly have all opted out. Mahendra Singh Dhoni leads a side high on potential but low on achievement.
No one knows quite what to expect, but as Dinesh Karthik showed in India's lone Twenty20 appearance - a thrilling win at the Wanderers last December - the format is tailormade for unexpected heroes. A successful campaign - a place in the last four - might hasten the process of new faces being inducted into the one-day side as well.
Unlike England or South Africa, who embraced the format in domestic cricket a few seasons ago, India only held its first tournament in the aftermath of the World Cup disaster. Tamil Nadu won that, but there were few signs that India's lack of nous and ability in cricket's third estate - fielding - would be transformed by the inclusion of younger players. Thrashing the ball around on home pitches was also no real indicator of batting quality, and that might explain the lack of left-field picks in the XV for the World Championship.
Starting with the recalled Virender Sehwag at the top of the order, India has quite an array of exciting batting talent. Most of the leading batsmen, especially Dhoni, are capable of improvising cleverly, and the medium-pace bowlers they come up against might get a real pasting.
Zaheer Khan, India's pace spearhead, who was magnificent in helpful conditions at the Wanderers last year, has been rested for the event, and the onus could well be on Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla to induce mishits and get wickets.
Despite his descent into poor-form hell last year, Irfan Pathan could also be an integral part of India's challenge. When he can get it to swing early on, he's a different proposition, and there are few cleaner hitters in the game. His ability to bat anywhere in the order makes him the most likely shock option.
The biggest handicap will undoubtedly be the fielding. India's best two practitioners, Mohammad Kaif and Suresh Raina, have been left behind, and barring the often outstanding Yuvraj Singh, there are no AB de Villiers/Michael Clarke-type fielders to prowl the inner ring. With the exception of Sreesanth and Ajit Agarkar, few have strong, accurate throws from the deep either.
India have little hope of winning this tournament, but hopefully their fruitless search for an allrounder will end with the return to form of Pathan, and their sloppy fielding will be improved with the injection of youth
The inexperienced pace bowling is as much of a worry. Sreesanth and RP Singh are both capable of hustling the best batsmen, but they can also leak runs alarmingly when off radar. As for Agarkar, the most experienced member of the side, no one still knows what to expect from him after a decade at the highest level. The back-up medium-pace option, Joginder Sharma, doesn't inspire much confidence either.
The lack of a head coach may be cited by some as a handicap, but the team certainly hasn't suffered for it thus far in England.
Players to watch
Virender Sehwag No one has more to prove than Sehwag, whose descent from the world's premier destroyer of quality bowling to man on the outer in both Test and one-day cricket is a sobering reminder of the pitfalls of sporting fame. His inability to pace himself properly in one-day cricket hastened the slide, but the constant-thrash nature of the Twenty20 format may well result in a return to the days of calm and unfettered hitting.
Yuvraj Singh Dhoni, with his massive carves over the infield, will doubtless play a part, but the star man should be Yuvraj, whose uncanny ability to find the gaps on both sides of the wicket is unparalleled in Indian cricket.
Yusuf Pathan Most people will know of him as Irfan's brother, but Yusuf Pathan's ability to belt the cricket ball beyond the boundary, coupled with his tidy spin bowling, has propelled him onto the biggest stage. Other leading contenders have specialists like Luke Wright and Gulam Bodi in their ranks, and India will hope that the unknown Pathan turns out to be their X-factor.
Ian Chappell's take
By making themselves unavailable, India's big three, Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly, have done what the selectors weren't brave enough to do on their own accord - make the Indian side younger.
India have little hope of winning this tournament, but hopefully their fruitless search for an allrounder will end with the return to form of Pathan, and their sloppy fielding will be improved with the injection of youth.
The other big plus that India will be looking to get out of this tournament is the international rehabilitation of Sehwag and Harbhajan. Just as a term in the wilderness has revitalised Ganguly's career, a return to former glory by these two talented young players would greatly enhance India's showing in this tournament and also in the future. In fact, if Sehwag, Irfan and Harbhajan all perform well in this tournament, and Sreesanth is sufficiently chastened by his omission from the 50-overs side to concentrate purely on bowling, then India will be much the better for participating. Chawla is another young player who is fast improving and looks ready to assume greater international responsibility.
With their dubious top-order batting and their propensity for being generous in the field, India could well disappoint in this tournament. Then again, if all their reclamation projects are successful, they could be the biggest surprise package of the tournament. They are more likely to fall in the former category than in the latter, and to miss the semi-finals. However, even if two of the reclamation projects fire, it could be regarded as a successful tournament for India. Rating: 6/10
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