India just finished a wonderfully contested series in South Africa. A return of 2-3 in the ODI series and a drawn 3-test match series, “almost” calls for a huge celebration and unending praise, such has been India’s performance in that part of world over the years. However, a series lost is still a series lost, and a series drawn is not the same as a series “Win”. Now abandoning the pessimistic drone, let us also look at the positives [like Dhoni seems to re-iterative at every post-match conference] that came out of the series, and there were plenty of them. The bowling attack’s skill in making use of the conditions at hand, bowling in the death [This is restricted to a few games. Most of the times, we still concede too little, too many], Yusuf Pathan’s translation of IPL form onto the International stage and Virat Kohli’s stylish,but more importantly, highly improved batting performance. Out of all these, I rate Mr.Virat Kohli’s improvement as most important, simply because it gives me something to write about.
Aside:[Bloggers are a selfish lot when it comes to topics. Anything that gives them scope to gun down more words in a blog post, obviously ranks higher in their list of priorities rather than mundane topics like Yedurappa’s never ending land-scams, BJP’s inspirational flag-hoisting march in Kashmir and Wirpo’s sacking of its co-CEOs]
India’s world cup squad has already been announced. This is what the final squad looks like [in no particular order]:
- Gautam Gambhir
- Virender Sehwag
- Sachin Tendulkar
- Mahendra Singh Dhoni [captain and wicket-keeper]
- Yuvraj Singh
- Suresh Raina
- Virat Kohli
- Yusuf Pathan
- Harbhajan Singh
- Zaheer Khan
- Praveen Kumar
- Ashish Nehra
- Munaf Patel
- Ravichandran Ashwin
- Piyush Chawla
A lot of ink has already been spent on discussing and dissecting the squad. A lot of it makes sense too. For instance, why was Piyush Chawla picked, when he hasn’t really played for India in an ODI since July’08 [He played yesterday in the final ODI against South Africa. You all saw, how that turned out. No wickets at 4.57 in 7 overs and 8 with the bat. So much for being someone who can bowl “good” leg-spin and bat a “bit” too.]. Is Praveen Kumar a better bowler than Sreesanth or Ishant Sharma in Indian conditions? [we all know that the only thing that Praveen Kumar can do is swing the ball. If the ball doesn’t swing, which it will not in India, he is as good a bowler as I am, although I chuck and my hand undergoes this devilish contortion as the ball comes out of it, thereby distracting the batsman and working to my advantage :-)]
Now let’s talk about Virat Kohli. I was actually discussing with a friend on what would India’s expected playing XI be for most of the World Cup. Barring a few injuries here and there, this is what came out of the discussion:
Sachin and Sehwag to open the innings. Gambhir to come at 1-down. Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni and Raina to form the middle order. Yusuf Pathan takes no.7 followed by Harbhajan, Zaheer, Patel and Nehra.
In 9 out of 10 cases, this would be India’s ideal line-up. However, Kohli’s improvement as a player in the past 6 months and the fact that he looked India’s most assured and consistent batsman in the ODI series against South Africa called for a different perspective. Can a young player, who looks in really good nick, has a brilliant temperament[critical for high pressure tournaments like the World Cup] and is also a stunning fielder, be left out of the team? Then I saw this Tweet from my friend, @harshmaskara. This made things even more interesting. Is Kohli really battling for a place with Raina, although both of them bat at different positions [Kohli’s preferred position is 1-down and Raina comes in at no.6] and bring different things to the table. As if all this wasn’t enough, my friend, Tanuj Gupta [who in my opinion is the greatest bowler not to have played competitive cricket and by competitive, I mean college-level cricket] argued with me on why Yuvraj should stay in the team and not Kohli, it really set the cat among the pigeons. So basically if you look at it Yuvraj, Raina and Kohli are fighting for two of the slots which I have deemed available in the playing XI.
This is my assessment:
Yuvraj Singh at this point of time is really irreplaceable. Yes, he hasn’t been in good form through the whole of 2010 and has been found wanting in terms of technique on the African pitches that offer more bounce and pronounced seam-movement but a Yuvraj Singh on Indian pitches is a different monster. Once he is assured of the fact that he won’t be bounced out any given moment and that he can hit through the line, there is hardly anyone who can strike the ball as cleanly as far as him [not even Yusuf Pathan can beat him there]. If you look at his record in 2010, he did reasonably well at home, scoring runs at 59.33(av) and taking wickets too [find the stats here. source: Cricinfo]. The latter is also very relevant because he seems to be Dhoni’s first choice when it comes to part-time spinners. So Yuvraj Singh in my opinion is definitely taking one of the two spots.
That leaves us with Raina and Kohli. One thing is for sure, that none of them can play at no.3 slot. Not trying to say, that the batting order is fixed and highly rigid, but if Gambhir has to play, then the most optimal scenario would be for him to either open with Tendulkar and Sehwag to come as 1-down or Sehwag to open and Gambhir to follow suit. Either ways, 1-down position is taken.[Gambhir is a natural opener and playing him any lower than no.3 wouldn’t really make any sense] Now the only slot remaining is that of no.6, the position of the finisher, where Raina generally likes to bat. These are a few numbers that I pulled from Cricinfo Statsguru. In the last 2 years, in all the matches played in India, Raina has played in 12 of them. He has scored 331 runs at an av of 41.37. His strike-rate in most of the innings has either been a run every ball or well above that. Virat Kohli on the other hand has not played in that position in any of the matches [I pulled out stats for Virat Kohli, playing at no.3 for the last 2 years. The numbers are staggering. He has scored 419 runs in just 8 matches at an av. of 59.85, with 2 100s and 3 50+ scores.]. So does it really make sense to pick Kohli and make him play at a slot where he hasn’t played thus far and all this when we already have a proven finisher in Raina who is used to the rigors of playing at No.6. Playing at 1-down is very different from playing no.6 because at 1-down, you often get more overs to play with, so that you can get your eye in before you play the big shots. But as a finisher, you are either expected to steer your team to a sizable total with whatever overs you are left with or architect your team’s run-chase in case the top-order has failed to do its job. I am not trying to belittle Kohli’s talent by saying that he cannot perform as a finisher, but at an event as big as the World Cup, nerves play a much heightened role. It is then that familiarity to the duty you are expected to perform comes in handy. Also Raina’s part-time spin will definitely help Dhoni in terms of the bowling options at Dhoni’s command. With World Cup, its all about picking the right players for the right roles, even if it means leaving out some who are definitely better than others in the team in other aspects.
So it seems as if Mr.Kohli will have to wait another 4 years before he can participate in the World cup, at least that’s the outcome my blog seems to predict!! Kindly feel free to send in your views. A debate on cricket is always healthy, even though it may tend to get a little violent and personal at times 🙂