Vijay and Mishra selections debatable
As India's selection panel sat down to pick the squad for the Champions Trophy on Saturday, they had to first decide whether to consider the Champions Trophy a marquee event, or treat it as the start of preparations for the 2015 World Cup. Going by their sweeping changes, it is clear that they have their eyes fixed on 2015, rather than attaching too much importance to what could well be the last edition of the Champions Trophy.
If Ajinkya Rahane had to be dropped for not living up to expectations with the bat in the limited opportunities he got last season, so did Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir. While Yuvraj tallied 160 runs in eight innings against England and Pakistan, Gambhir totalled just one run more. The selectors decided to replace all three. Cheteshwar Pujara, who is recovering from a fractured finger, was going to miss out as the selectors want him fully fit for the India A tour to South Africa towards the end of July.
Shikhar Dhawan was a certainty to come in at the top of the order. Once Manoj Tiwary was unavailable, having injured himself during the IPL, there was no better choice than Dinesh Karthik in the middle order. Not only has the Tamil Nadu batsman been in superlative form during the IPL but he also provides the option of a back-up wicketkeeper. Not at all a like-for-like replacement for Yuvraj, but given the circumstances, Karthik deserved yet another chance to prove his mettle at the highest level.
The most contentious selections in the squad are M Vijay and Amit Mishra. Vijay's selection draws parallels with that of Wasim Jaffer for the ODIs in South Africa in 2006, that of a Test opener being given a chance in ODIs purely on the basis of his technique. But ESPNcricinfo understands that the selectors haven't just gone by Vijay's good form during the Test series against Australia. It was pointed out that Vijay's "run spree" in the Challenger Trophy and in the warm-up one-dayer against England went in his favour.
Agreed, Vijay's 76 against England came in somewhat trying circumstances at the Palam ground in New Delhi. But it's rather baffling if his Challenger Trophy fifty and 155 - against attacks including Ishant Sharma, Abhimanyu Mithun, Pragyan Ojha and Parvinder Awana - are yardsticks for Champions Trophy selection. After all, the Challenger Trophy was played in Rajkot, the flattest deck in India. The Champions Trophy, on the other hand, will be played in England, that too in the first half of the summer, where the conditions won't be anywhere similar to what they were in Rajkot last October.
As far as Mishra's selection goes, once again it is baffling to see three spinners in the squad for an event in England in June. No doubt Mishra is spinning his web around the batsmen during the IPL. But the fact that the team management did not give Mishra a single game during the five ODIs at home against England cannot be ignored. The selectors, though, feel that a wrist spinner may be better off in English conditions, especially given the fact that there aren't many on the international scene.
Fair enough. But the team management is still likely to back Ravindra Jadeja as the second spinner in the XI, and the selectors have given them the option of Irfan Pathan for the allrounder's slot. So where does that leave Mishra? Serving drinks, more often than not, we suppose.
As for the bowling line-up, as expected, Umesh Yadav and Vinay Kumar have come in for Ashok Dinda and Shami Ahmed. But instead of replacing Mishra with Pathan, the selectors have chosen to get Pathan in place of Rahane.
Rahane, the selectors felt, would affect the balance of the squad. With three openers, four middle-order batsmen including two wicketkeepers, three spinners including an allrounder and five pace bowlers, have Sandeep Patil and Co got the balance right this time around? Your call.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo