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The Indian Squad for the Champions Trophy: Reflections

May 9, 2017

Sidharth Monga, courtesy of ESPNcricinfo, 8 May 2017, where the title runs “Selectors bank on experience over glamour quotient”

Manpreet Gony. Karn Sharma. Jasprit Bumrah. Hardik Pandya. Axar Patel. Sanju Samson. Some success stories, some not. They all first played for India based on their IPL performances. Many a comeback has been made based on IPL. Some have flourished, some have not. However, this selection for the Champions Trophy, the first time since 2013 that the IPL is being followed immediately by a big one-day tournament, has shown clear signs that the Twenty20 performances are not going to sway the selectors. The clear message from MSK Prasad’s team of selectors is that the unglamorous domestic cricket holds more importance than the IPL, at least when it comes to selections for formats longer than just 20 overs. 

Harbhajan Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Rishabh Pant, Kuldeep Yadav, Robin Uthappa, Jaydev Unadkat, Suresh Raina, Yuzvendra Chahal and Dinesh Karthik were some of the players who made a pressing case for themselves, especially with each day the selection got delayed by. None of them made it to the squad, whereas Kedar Jadhav and MS Dhoni, who have not had a great IPL, retained their ODI spots largely thanks to their performances in India’s last ODI series, against England.

For a big tournament, two years in the making, the squad is usually and largely predictable. The three issues India had to respond to were the opening slots, power in the middle order, and a spinner. The opening slot went to the tried-and-tested pair of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan; experience ruled in the wicketkeeping middle-order position, and R Ashwin came back into the ODI side despite not playing the IPL.

This was a rare case where India named back-up players. They intend to keep their paperwork ready in case a replacement is required for an injured player. Four of these five players – Pant, Kuldeep, Shardul Thakur and Karthik – have had a solid season of cricket behind them, and not just the IPL. Only Raina, who comes with a promise of flexibility and all-round capabilities, is the one in that list who has benefitted mostly from the IPL.

“It [IPL] is a very very glamorous tournament,” chairman of selectors MSK Prasad said when asked how difficult it was to not get carried away with the IPL performances. “It is really one of the best tournaments in the world today. IPL is our premier tournament and best tournament in the world. No two ways about it. When we consider for a 50-over tournament, though, we need to see other aspects of the game. All-round capabilities. We are really happy with the way someone like [Rahul] Tripathi or Basil Thampi or Sanju are shaping up. It is a wonderful platform. From here we will bring them under our radar and groom them.

“We respect IPL, but when it comes to the longer formats and also when it comes to playing in the conditions we are playing in, the English conditions…We have also looked at the performance over the last year. And the experience. Experience is of paramount importance in a big tournament like the Champions Trophy.”

India picked Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan as the frontline openers and Ajinkya Rahane as the third opener © IDI/Getty Images

It is sound logic given how different Twenty20 the sport is compared to ODIs, but as a result, India have named a largely predictable – unimaginative or safe, some might say, not without reason – squad to defend a trophy they won four years ago through a brand-new opening combination and a spinner still finding his feet in international cricket.

The two aspects where India might be lagging behind the world are wristspin and power-hitting in the middle. At a time where fingerspinners are struggling in limited-overs cricket, India, Bangladesh and New Zealand are the only teams with no wristspinners to call upon. India have banked on Ashwin instead, who has played only five ODIs since the start of 2016 and has not bowled his allotment in three of those. Ashwin brings experience, though, and according to Prasad he was always going to be picked. Kuldeep lost out narrowly, but to an extra batsman and not to any of the spinners.

Prasad slayed any doubts around Dhoni by calling him the best wicketkeeper in the world. He said that to judge him as batsman alone is harsh. He rarely has a bad day behind the stumps, and his inputs to the captain are invaluable, which no doubt even Steven Smith will acknowledge at Rising Pune Supergiant. However, it is that power game in the middle that will be important if the pitches in England are as flat as they have been over the last couple of years.

In their last ODI series, Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni did a great job rescuing India from crisis, but there they came in early enough to be able to take their time and get their innings going. There is every chance, going to bat after the 30th over on flat pitches, that they might be asked to just hit from ball one.

Perhaps, India could have been bolder in choosing a dasher and a wristspinner – not necessarily from the IPL – but going with experience in a big tournament is not an out-and-out blunder either.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo © ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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