One group of men who are usually not given a lot of credit whenever the Indian cricket team does well are the selectors. There was a time when the media and even others loved to call them the ‘five wise men of Indian cricket’ (some still do). Their ‘wisdom’ though is seldom appreciated. The glory is usually reserved for the cricketers and sometimes the support staff.
But if you put yourself in the shoes of the selectors, you will realise that the going really gets tough when there is either a dearth of real talent to pick from or when there is an abundance of it. Thankfully, for Indian cricket, it’s the latter at this stage.
So, it’s not easy being an Indian National cricket selector, especially with the World Cup around the corner. India are being tagged (as is usually the case) as firm title favourites and there are only 15 spots that need to be filled. Most of the squad of course will pick itself. It’s the remaining few places that will be really tricky to fill. And that’s where the selectors’ main challenge lies as they keep an eagle eye out for each and every World Cup probable.
When it comes to Indian cricket, it’s almost impossible to please everyone, especially when a squad for a big tournament is picked. There will always be questions asked about why a certain someone missed out or what made the selectors pick a certain player.
What adds to the challenge for the selectors to pick the ‘right’ World Cup squad this time is the emergence of a number of new players who have thrown their hats in the ring for a possible berth. The likes of Rishabh Pant, Vijay Shankar, Shubman Gill (his performances against Australia, if he is picked, will decide if the selectors look at him seriously), Khaleel Ahmed, Mohammed Siraj, Krunal Pandya and possibly Mayank Agarwal will perhaps all be discussed and evaluated by the selectors. Many feel Pant is certain to make his World Cup debut. Two other ‘young’ players Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, who have already played 79 ODIs between the two of them (40 for Chahal and 30 for Kuldeep), are also all but certain to get a maiden World Cup spot. So is Hardik Pandya perhaps.
And then don’t forget some of the more seasoned campaigners, like Ajinkya Rahane, Kedar Jadhav and Dinesh Karthik, who will also be discussed, when the middle order slots are being decided.
World Cup preparation for most top teams begins well in advance. Teams pull out all stops to try and put together a squad that is good enough to win the holy grail of international ODI cricket. It’s no secret that Steve Smith and David Warner are expected to be fast-tracked straight back into the Australian playing XI as soon as their bans end. Three time World Cup winner Ricky Ponting (who has been hired recently to work with the Aussies as part of their World Cup preparations) in fact has said that Australia will be a good enough team to successfully defend the World Cup title in England and Wales this time, with Smith and Warner back in the ranks. When it comes to big tournaments like the World Cup, the biggest priority is to field your best players. Everything else can and does take a back seat. It will be no different for Team India. And in that context, the upcoming 2 T20 and 5 ODI series vs Australia at home will be the final dress rehearsal for Virat Kohli and his men. And the selectors will be watching closely, very, very closely.
The selection panel is scheduled to meet on Friday (February 15) to pick the squad for the Australia series. The big question is, will they give a few of the ‘understudies’ a go and pick more of them, or pick exactly the core group they have in mind for the World Cup, along with the chosen few (read about 2-3 players) who they have all but made up their minds about? Workload management will of course be discussed, which could mean that some key players might be rested. That in turn could open up opportunities to play a few more youngsters.
Momentum in cricket counts for a lot. India of course would not want Australia to gain any momentum at all from the upcoming series (even though there is the IPL to be played before the World Cup starts). Which means, making sure the Aussies don’t win the ODI series (which will be played after the 2 T20s). That’s another tightrope for the selectors to walk.
And MSK Prasad and his panel’s job doesn’t just finish after the series vs Australia. Most, if not all, of the players who are eventually picked for the World Cup will be playing the IPL and there too their performances and workload will have to be monitored. If you thought it’s easy being an Indian cricket selector, think again.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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