Big names revel in lesser roles for India success
India finally find themselves in the possession of a luxury they have craved for some time now - a settled combination topped up by a bunch of all-rounders. The presence of like-for-like replacements in the squad is exactly what captain MS Dhoni desires as India head into the World T20. But the inevitable upshot of such squad dynamics is that a few players are not going to play even a single game in the tournament.
In the Indian context it is hard to see how Ajinkya Rahane and Harbhajan Singh can force themselves into the first XI. For Rahane to get a look in, one of the openers - Shikhar Dhawan or Rohit Sharma - would either have to be injured or suffer a sudden form slump. The team's batting order is so well grooved that it can't accommodate him in the middle order.
Harbhajan, similarly, would find it hard to dislodge the team's frontline spin options, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. He would have reason to feel hard done by given that his recent performances have been impressive; he picked up nine wickets from five games in the Syed Mushtaq Ali domestic T20 tournament. While India have played 11 T20Is since January, Harbhajan got his solitary opportunity against UAE in the Asia Cup where he returned figures of 4-1-11-1.
Rahane, on the other hand, has had luckier circumstances: he got to play the entire Sri Lanka series with Virat Kohli being rested and turned out against Pakistan in the Asia Cup after Shikhar Dhawan was out with a niggle. However, he hasn't really pushed his case with a tally of 51 runs from four games.
What has helped India's cause though is neither Harbhajan nor Rahane has appeared to harbour any feelings of negativity or frustration. Instead, both the players have sought to derive happiness from contributing to the team in some form, be it mentoring, sharing ideas or running drinks. Rahane insisted there was no need for him to feel disappointed.
"For me, even if I am not in the XI, it's important to be of some help to the team. I think kisi ko paani pilaana bhi bahut badi cheez hoti hai [even carrying drinks for someone is a very important thing]," Rahane said at a media interaction in Kolkata on Tuesday. "If you do anything from your mind, whether you are in the XI or not, if you are offering drinks or helping someone by being the 12th man it's of some value to the country.
"Getting the team combination right is the best priority. I am quite happy that the ones who have got opportunity have done well. It only gets difficult [to deal with being dropped] when you don't prepare but if I prepare well and practice with purpose I am sure I will do well when I get the opportunity. "
Harbhajan said he gained satisfaction from sharing his knowledge, and that a receptive bunch of team-mates made the process even better.
"It's important to share your knowledge. If you don't, you haven't done much in your life," he said. "If my seniors have helped me to become the player I have become then it's important to share my knowledge on what to do in different situations, not just on the field but off the field.
"Guys like me understood many things late; I would get angry a lot but with time we all learn. So I share my knowledge even when I am not playing. If someone is looking to do something as a bowler help him out with things he wants to achieve in the net sessions. Luckily this team has those sort of guys who are good listeners. They believe in sharing thoughts."
A naturally introverted person like Rahane has found his voice in team-meetings. He attributed that to the enhanced confidence level gained from constantly working on his game.
"Whoever is playing now I try to learn from them about their shot-selection in different conditions," he said. "In Bangladesh, the ball was moving around quite a bit initially, and I was noticing how our openers and also the batsmen in the opposition were playing. Specifically how Rohit took some time initially but after 10 overs began opening out. It's about how quickly you analyse a situation and adjust mentally that's most important.
"My wife told me many times that I need to talk a little more. My nature is such that, even during the days I used to practice karate, I was very shy. Sometimes you end up not saying things that are right and which ought to be said that also you don't end up speaking. I think it's important to speak for yourself. We all speak in team meetings and it is very important to speak your mind and if what you say helps the team it is important. Like you said my confidence has also improved and because of that you express your mind better."
Harbhajan said two things, faith and satisfaction, played a huge part in him keeping pace with youngsters. He even has the word 'faith' tattooed on his hand to reinforce the message.
"I have done one and only thing - I have worked really hard on my fitness which has kept me going," he said. "If I have to compete with a 25-year-old then I have to have the same sort of fitness. You need to have the will along with the skill. If the will is big enough you can achieve anything.
"Playing for India satisfies me the most and playing anywhere gives me pleasure. This is a very important part of my life. Till the time I can play I must play, whether it is 40 or 45 or 50. I don't know anything else other than playing. [The tattoo refers to] faith in God, faith in your ability, faith in everything you do. There is a reason behind your working hard."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo