India battle with rotation issues

With India still in with a chance of levelling the series, the think-tank have to decide how to rest key players without compromising on their victory chances

Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu

Virender Sehwag was expected to find a place in the Indian squad at some point during the series against Australia, but that hasn't happened © AFP
When the Indian team for the first three ODIs of this seven-match series was named, the one big name missing was Virender Sehwag. With Harbhajan Singh and Irfan Pathan returning to the team on the basis of performances in the ICC World Twenty20, it was widely assumed - and the selectors speaking privately did nothing to dispel the notion - that there was no reason for Sehwag to worry and that in the course of the one-day season he'd get a look in. As of now, though, there's still no place for him.
"This is the best batting line-up we've got. Sachin, Sourav, followed by Rahul, then Yuvi, myself and Robin," said Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Indian captain, at the end of the fifth match, when asked about why the line-up was changed around. "It just didn't work today. We didn't get the partnerships we wanted early on." Obviously he was referring to the line-up he had on his hands, and not whether Sehwag figured in the plans, but it's interesting that the talk over Sehwag has died down almost completely as the series has progressed.
What's more, with India still in with a chance of levelling the series 3-3, although that's unlikely given just how hard the Australians have played each of these games, it makes it extremely difficult for the team to think about resting one of its senior batsmen. The results, however, do not change the fact that India have a large volume of cricket - both ODI and Test - in the coming year. In fact this was the rationale behind the selectors and the team management contemplating a rotation policy in the first place. In the 12 ODIs India would play against Australia and Pakistan, it was believed that each of Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly would sit out at least one match.
With Dravid struggling for runs, and he's hardly been at the crease enough to judge what kind of form he is in, the selectors have a tough decision on their hands. In different circumstances, with the series decided one way or the other by the time game six came around, Dravid would have been rested. But now, with only 44 runs from five matches, there's hardly a case to rest him, and dropping him in the first series after he stepped down as captain would be cruel to someone who has served the team's cause exceedingly well in both forms of the game for several years now.
If India win the next game then the temptation to rest someone will recede further as the seventh match will provide an opportunity to level a series that once looked gone for all money. If India lose, then again it will be hard to consider someone like S Badrinath in place of one of the senior batsmen, for a solitary win from seven games would hardly be acceptable returns for Dhoni in his first series as captain. However, the temptation to play Badrinath will be strong, for Dhoni will remember how Rohit Sharma could barely get a knock in England, and delivered so brilliantly when drafted in the ICC World Twenty20. Robin Uthappa's case was no different, with him sitting out the best part of the one-day series in England, only to turn matchwinner at the first opportunity he was afforded. In short, it's a tricky conundrum, and one that Dhoni will have to deal with delicately and sensibly.
Australia, for their part, have their own selection dilemmas, but typically have their own way of dealing with these things. Brad Haddin might have scored 156 from his two innings, scoring half-centuries in each, but when the time for Ricky Ponting's return from injury came along, he was left out, with Brad Hodge, the more senior batsman, retaining his place in the team despite a string of poor scores. Few teams other than Australia would have chosen this path, and on top of this they've even sent Adam Voges, who was in the squad as cover for Ponting, back home. Already, he's in action, playing domestic cricket for the Western Warriors.

Anand Vasu is an associate editor on Cricinfo