Friday, February 11, 2011

The Real Contenders #1: India

In the series - The Real Contenders, I will take a look at the top six teams which I believe will most probably take the title.

First up, co-hosts and the general favourite of the cricketing world, team India. Squad of 15:

1. Mahender Singh Dhoni: Skipper and glovesman of the Indian brigade, MSD is a hard hitting batsmen, who has shown the ability to play with patience when required. Recent form hasn't been great, but on flat pitches and small/average sized boundaries, we can expect him to get going. The 2007 WC, his only WC showing was a disaster and everyone in India will hope he does much better. Being a very successful captain means his captaincy is almost always praised, though I have other opinions.

2. Virender Sehwag: The swashbuckling opener comes with a reputation of being destructive, and we all know he can live up to it. Since 2008, Sehwag has averaged 45 in ODIs at a strike rate(SR) of 90+. In the last two years or 29 innings, Sehwag has batted past the first 15 overs only 5 times. India have won the match all five times. Enough to show his worth as a match winner. However, shoulder injury has been persisting since a while now, though he has been declared fully fit for the cup.

3. Sachin Tendulkar: Opening the innings with prolific Sehwag will be the Master blaster from Mumbai. In his illustrious career, he has seen ups and highs but never been able to lay his hands on the big WC trophy. With the Indian team looking good and relatively settled as compared to the last WC, this could be the one for him. There are two concerns that I have regarding this champion batsmen. One being his fitness, since he left the SA series midway. Second being his lack of ODI practice, because since the last Feb, he has played only two ODIs.

4. Gautam Gambhir: A technically stable and determined young man who has proven his mettle in New Zealand, South Africa as well as India. Being an opening batsmen( though, he will/should bat at 3) means he has to provide good starts for the team and he has done just that. In run chases, he average much higher then while batting first. Clearly depicting his ability to handle pressure. Superb player of spin bowling who can step on the gas if and when required. Personally, I feel he should open with Sehwag, but that isn't likely.

5. Virat Kohli: The 22 year old from Delhi is a very impressive young man. The second highest run scorer in ODIs for 2010 has been scoring match after match. Even though, many bloggers still believe he isn't a given in the starting XI, I have no doubt he will play. All of India's matches are day-night games, which makes him even more essential. Reason: Consistency in chasing during night matches. ( Thanks to Golandaaz for the link.) Not to forget, his fielding is absolutely superb, whether at point position or in the deep during the final onslaught.

6. Yuvraj Singh: One of the most talented batsmen India has produced since Tendulkar. Unfortunately though, he hasn't utilized his talent to the extent he could have and should have. Naturally aggressive and very capable of taking the game to the opposition. In recent times, his batting hasn't been that destructive, but with some matches against Netherlands and Ireland could easily be the boost he is looking for. His bowling has also been crucial for the team, since the left armer has picked up over 16 wickets in the past year and a half. But, for India to be a dominant force, his bat must do the talking.

7. Yusuf Pathan: The most crucial batting all-rounder that India has in their rank. Yousuf is a dangerous middle or lower order batsmen, who has shown good maturity in recent times. There are good chances that he might get shuffled up or down the order according to the match situation. If he continues to bat the way he is batting currently, could do the job Lance Klusener did back in 1999. His off spin is also very useful for providing crucial breakthroughs for the team. I have earlier stated that he should be picked over Raina in the starting XI.

8. Suresh Raina: I, like the other 20-odd thousand people at Faridabad's stadium had once witnessed a superb knock of 81* by this lad. Back then he was 19 years old and caught everyones' eyes. Since then, he has had his fair share of ups and downs. His fielding is as impressive as it was when he arrived, though his batting is currently not in that great form. Only reason he doesn't feature in the starting XI is because Yuvraj has been more effective with the ball for India.

9. Zaheer Khan: The unofficial bowling captain is one smart guy. Zaheer often uses angles to keep the run-rate down and chip away with wickets. His aim will be pick up early wickets so that Harbhajan and Ashwin are not pressurized in the middle overs. Even more so against teams like South Africa and England(remember Smith and Strauss are his bunnies). Even his presence in the side makes a huge difference to the spirit of team India and fans like myself.

10. Ashish Nehra: The second most successful Indian bowler in the last three years in ODIs. Nehra is quintessentially a swing bowler and in fact, among the best swing bowlers India has ever produced. The only issue has been his frequent fitness issues. Of late, he has addressed that and seems fit. One area where he needs to work on is bowling accurate yorkers so as to not get bashed away in the final overs. Having an off series in South Africa might mean that he may be benched if India play only two pacers, which is most likely.

11. Munaf Patel: The McGrath of this Indian team, though he isn't that talented( in bowling skills or talking skills). A disciplined performer who bowls wicket to wicket and has managed to maintain an economy rate of under 5. Even in the last WC, he bowled well though India was kicked out by Bangladesh. Munaf seems to be a simple bowler with a clear mind. He showcased this in the 2nd ODI against SA, when India grabbed victory out of the jaws of defeat.

12. S Sreesanth: Speedster from Kerela has come in as a replacement for injured Praveen Kumar. I do not doubt his ability, but I believe he is more suited for the longer format of the game. He has played only 15 ODIs in the last three years, picking 23 wickets, but conceded 6.7 runs an over. Getting a game will be tough for him, unless someone gets injured or India is playing a dead-rubber match, but if he does come in, he must not leak away easy runs.

13. Harbhajan Singh: Many bloggers believe that Bhajji is not in the best part of this career, but still he is the highest wicket taker for India in last three years at an average of over 32 and economy of under 4.8 runs an over. India's dream will be shattered if Bhajji doesn't pick up wickets regularly against top teams. In World Cups, he has an economy of under 4, but hasn't picked up too many wickets. So clearly, he needs to improve in that department.

14. Ravichandran Ashwin: In the seven ODIs that he has played, he has been good. In all fairness, 5 of them have been against New Zealand in India, which has helped his statistics for sure. But, he is a young man with a stable head on his shoulders and a sharp googly which turns a long way. I area where he scores better than Piyush Chawla is that he backs his ability and keeps tossing the ball up even if he may get hit once in a while.

15. Piyush Chawla: The 22 year old leggie from UP hasn't hadn't played for 30 months when he got selected for the WC squad. A sharp googly that has troubled the likes of KP and Tendulkar needs to used judiciously. Some people regard him highly and feel he should feature in starting XI like SP, but I would go for Ashwin as second spinner. He will come into play if one of the spinners are injured or management decides to go for some variety.

Likely XI: Sehwag, Sachin, Gambhir, Kohli, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Yusuf, Harbhajan, Ashwin, Zaheer, Munaf.

All in all, a good combination of experience and talented youth. Though, they are a few players with niggles and problems with form, but games against Holland and Ireland will help addressing that.

They are considered favourites by most, though I believe Sri Lanka have better chance. Still, they have a good chance of doing well and I would expect them to reach at least the Semis.

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  1. Nice analysis..
    If India has to win the world cup, I think consistency is the key throughout the month and a half. The team looks well prepared, but everyone will have India's world cup history at the back of their minds.

  2. Raina not featuring in your starting 11 shows how narrow-minded a cricket fan you are......the guy has done so much in the last year and just because he hasn't scored as many runs as expected from him,he sits out after all the things so that someone like a virat kohli,whose "consistency in run scoring" has been against B or C-grade bowling attacks....and yes,scored a 80 odd against South Africa after the game was lost by not even attempting to bring us close....yuvraj gets into the side because of his bowling ?? he is in the team first as a batsman,not a bowler.So there's no meaning in him getting into the world cup 11 without being able enough to fulfill his first either overrated kohli or yuvraj should sit out,not one of the brightest talents in the world like raina....

  3. Mayank, are you sure that you would want India to go in with 2 spinners and 2 pacers? That may leave us puffing in the Powerplays. I know Ashwin can bowl in the Powerplays, but what if a pacer has an off day... who will take his load in the Powerplays?

    Very interesting piece of stat where you said that India has won all 5 matches where Sehwag has lasted 15 or more overs. Hope he can do it consistently at the World Cup!

  4. Mike, why do you have 3 spinners in your XI ( in my opinion, munaf is not a pace bowler).
    Hopefully, dhoni must go in with sreesanth/nehra.
    Ashwin must not be in XI according to my point of view.

    Sehwag is not a player... He's a juggernaut...

    Moreover I would play nehra and sreesanth and khan in the matches against the non test playing nations just as to see who's in the right rhythm...
    Would play munaf only if dire situations arise and everyone else is injured.

  5. I think Indian team should consider outsorcing the pace bowling department to Australians and south Africans.

  6. @AnkurJ - Thank you Ankur Bhai.

    @Shridhar - I am not very sure about the two spinners options, but I think they will go for this combo in most matches, except when they have a seaming track in Mohali, though that is unlikely.

    @MMM - Narrow minded ? I do a lot of reasearch before I put across a point. Raina has scored at an average of 28 with 4-5 wickets in start of 2010. While Yuvraj averages a bit more with 16 wickets. So, what I mean is, both Raina and Yuvraj are on thin ice and bowling is the decider.
    Yousuf and Kohli have been in absolutely sublime form and deserve to get picked. If you say Kohli has been scoring against B grades sides, then your favourite Raina hasn't even been scoring against them recently. I don't hate Raina, but doesn't deserve to be picked on recent form.
    And regarding the 80-odd in a lost cause, well, it is common knowledge for anyone who has played cricket at a decent level, that when the going gets tough, it is tougher to score. At least he showed some fight.

    @Crickaholic - Come on yaar. How can you call Munaf a spinner ?? Not even in a joke. Sreesanth is too unpredictable for my liking, would pick Munaf. Nehra hasn't been in sublime form in SA, so is third option.

  7. research*
    4-5 wickets since* the start of 2010

  8. Mike, are u aware of the fact that even Shahid Afridi bowls some deliveries faster than Munaf Patel. Literally I'm amazed at the fact that you consider munaf Patel a pace/fast bowler.

  9. You're right. Sreesanth is unpredictable ( but isn't this the nature of the game itself).
    In my opinion, That's what makes him the X-Factor in this boring Indian bowling line up.

  10. nop,he didn't show much fight....then what about his 54 off 70 against south africa in india in the 3rd ODI while chasing 300-odd....his and useless sharma's innings got the run scoring rate near 8 per over in that match....and raina scored 49 off 30 in that match coming at no:6...that's called fight even after kohli and sharma made the situation worse....

  11. @MMM - If you start pin pointing at one match out of the blue, then maybe you might be successful in proving Raina is better than Tendulkar as well. You should look at the these:

    and in case, even this doesn't help you in understanding the worth of Kohli, then check out the link I had added in the paragraph written for Kohli.

  12. Mayank, in that link you have posted above, do the following:

    First, sort them on average.
    Second, put a qualification of minimum 10 matches.

    Then, only Yusuf and Kohli average above 40 over last 12 months. If the qualification is reduced to 5 matches, then Gambhir and Sehwag can be added to this list.

    Raina, in fact, ranks below Ravindra Jadeja on average. Raina is a special player, but as Mayank's link shows, he is having a horrendous run of form.

    Had this been some other tournament, I would have wanted Dhoni to give Raina more chances to regain his form. But gaining form is something that cannot be done during a World Cup! So Raina will definitely need to be benched during the World Cup, at least the first few matches!


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