India's quandary in the Champions Trophy October 28, 2006

Getting the team selection all wrong

India's decision to play four medium pacers in the match against West Indies was a strange one. Playing four medium pacers in Indian conditions is a luxury even a Maharaja in his pomp would turn a blind eye to

Is it time to end the experiment of Irfan Pathan batting at No.3? © AFP

India's decision to go in with four medium pacers in the match against West Indies was a strange one. Playing four medium pacers in Indian conditions is a luxury even a Maharaja in his pomp would turn a blind eye to. Excessive use of medium-pacers on Indian turfs, an obese, overflowing middle order and the serial quarrel over Irfan Pathan at No.3 which the team picks up with the nation every time it takes the field - the Indians are only refining their finesse to shoot themselves in the foot.

We all know the soil in western India has a reddish tinge. In cricketing parlance it means a ticket to party for the spinners at the start and end of a cricket season. Yet India dispensed with Ramesh Powar and picked up four medium pacers. I can understand if you have pacers who can bowl at 140kmph but that isn't the case. Just picking up right and left-arm bowlers doesn't mean variety. There was too much sameness. All you end up doing is under-bowl a few of them and turn to the Sehwags and Yuvrajs. Fifteen overs between them is an admission that the team woke up to the reality late in the game. Sometimes wisdom comes to us when it can no longer do any good.

Now take the case of India's packed middle order. Besides the ones who played, Dinesh Mongia and Mohammad Kaif were resting on the bench. Compare this with the options they have at the top of the order. If some unfortunate injury was to happen to Virender Sehwag or Sachin Tendulkar, India don't have an option to give the team a thrust in the Power Plays. Who are the alternatives they have thought of for such an eventuality?

Gautam Gambhir must find a place in the squad for the World Cup, argues Shastri © AFP
Clearly, the Indians must, without any further delay, get an absolutely clear idea of the 15 they are going to pick for the World Cup. In my squad, Gautam Gambhir will be a must. You can't sideline players who can take a good helping for themselves in the Power Plays. It is an area where India don't seem to take a heavy toll of bowlers. Even in Ahmedabad on Thursday, they should have promoted Yuvraj Singh to make the most of the field restrictions, or even Suresh Raina, who needs to be given a stage to establish himself as a top-order left-hand batsman rather than allow him to languish at No.7.

Despite all the problems at the top, India keep thrusting Pathan at No.3. Bull-headedness is one thing but carrying on in the same vein is foolhardiness. I believe the time has come for Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of selectors, to impose his will early in his stint and be hands-on when the playing XI is being selected or the batting order is being pencilled down. Otherwise, the ship, already in stormy waters, is bound to run into rocks.

I can't believe this is the same side which stirred my heart six months ago. The quality of players hasn't worsened drastically, but poor selection and mismanagement of batting positions has seriously hampered the side. More of it and the bottom will come apart.

The pitch for their match against West Indies wasn't a 220-run kind of surface. Even this total was possible due to Mahendra Singh Dhoni's sensible batting. As I said, there are too many men queuing up for a place in the middle order while at the top there aren't enough hands to pick up the riches of the Power Plays.

India are now left to pick up the pieces. Around the same time last year, they staged a revival. Sometimes acknowledging your erroneous ways is the first step to redemption. Hopefully common sense will prevail and Dinesh Mongia will be thought of as an option in the do-or-die game against Australia.

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Ravi Shastri played 80 Tests and 150 ODIs for India in the 1980s and '90s, and is a prominent television commentator.