The selectors have shown faith in Virender Sehwag's matchwinning abilities despite his poor form
India's national selectors announced that the same 15 players who formed the squad for the Rajkot one-dayer against Sri Lanka would travel to the West Indies for the forthcoming World Cup. The selectors stuck to a conservative approach and pulled no major surprises.
Rahul Dravid, addressing the media as soon as the team was picked, said, "I'm excited about the team. But I'm pretty aware, and believe that it's not about the team you pick or about selection, but about performances. It's about the key six or seven players, supported by the group, and how they perform that matters. That's what the focus will be on for me. There might be a couple of names that people may not agree on. But if six-seven players can have a good tournament we will have a good tournament. It depends on the way players stand up and perform."
Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of selectors, was understated, letting Dravid do most of the talking and was not drawn into comment when asked which other players were discussed. "Everybody who is doing well was discussed," he said. But Vengsarkar did clarify that both Irfan Pathan and Yuvraj Singh were fit, "Both of them are fit for the next two games against Sri Lanka," he said, adding that RP Singh and Suresh Raina had been included as back-up for those matches.
The key question was over the inclusion of Virender Sehwag, and Dravid hoped that Sehwag would come back strongly and put in a big performance in the World Cup. "Sehwag has played in different positions in one-day cricket. That is an advantage," he said. "The challenge for him is to go out and produce the performances he has in the past. He has been given a vote of confidence by the selectors and now the ball is in his court and it is up to him to go out and repay that faith."
Another important question concerned the fielding for several members of this Indian squad are over 30 and aren't the quickest on the field. But Dravid did not agree that he would have to "manage" with the team he had. "I wouldn't like to use the word 'manage'. I'd rather use the word smart. We just have to be smart with where to field certain players," he said. "We have to give specific roles to people and rigorously practice those areas. It's about putting people in the right places. We can still be a very good fielding side. What we might lack in fielding we have to make up with bat and ball. People have to take up the responsibility and finish games with bat and ball."
Dravid also suggested that the team was viewing the tournament as one of two halves, and qualifying for the semifinal was the first critical phase. "You have to play well in the Super Eight and get into the semifinal. From there on it's a different tournament and we can have a distinct shot at the World Cup," he said. "A lot of guys realise this could be the last World Cup for them. I'm hoping that those guys in particular stand up and be counted."
Dravid said he felt for the players who missed out, but did not necessarily want to go into individuals. "At the end of the day a lot of players select themselves. You select yourself with your own performances," he said. "Suresh [Raina], Ramesh [Powar], some of the others will feel unlucky. But when you pick only 15 some people will miss out. If you can grab your opportunities, stamp your authority then these questions won't arise. If you're on the fringe you might miss out from time to time. The names that have missed out here, I hope they have a big role to play in the team in the future."
One such player who has grabbed his opportunity is Robin Uthappa, and Vengsarkar said as much. "There was no close call [between Uthappa and Gambhir]. Robin has done extremely well in the few games he has played. He was an automatic choice."
It took the selectors just about an hour, when they met at the Cricket Centre of the offices of the Board of Control for Cricket in India at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, to pick the 15. They were joined in the meeting by Dravid and Greg Chappell, the coach. John Gloster, the physiotherapist, also provided an update on the niggles that have laid low Yuvraj (back), Pathan (shoulder) and Agarkar (flu). Niranjan Shah, convener of the selection committee and honorary secretary of the BCCI, announced the team to a packed gathering of electronic and print media soon after.
Squad 1 Rahul Dravid (capt), 2 Sourav Ganguly, 3 Robin Uthappa, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Virender Sehwag, 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni, 8 Dinesh Karthik, 9 Irfan Pathan, 10 Ajit Agarkar, 11 Harbhajan Singh, 12 Anil Kumble, 13 Zaheer Khan, 14 Sreesanth, 15 Munaf Patel.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo