By Veturi Srivatsa
The list of 30 probables for the 2015 World Cup in the Antipodes has no surprises unless someone thought Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan or Harbhajan Singh would make it.
Interestingly, of all the major contenders for the cricket extravaganza, only India seem to be going in with large-scale changes — skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, his present deputy Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Ravichandran Ashwin being the only four survivors from the 2011 trophy-lifting side.
Yet, the selectors should not find it difficult to select their final squad of 15 just as they didn’t in naming the list of probables. The form and fitness of the big names made their job easy. All they now need to decide is whether they should have a second wicketkeeper or an extra batsman.
The 2011 Cup-winning team’s all-rounder Yuvraj was honest enough to admit that he hardly stood a chance to be in the squad that would be sent to defend the World Cup, though Sehwag hoped for a recall provided he was among the 30.
Harbhajan and Gambhir have different problems and neither could have competed with those occupying their positions in the team for quite some time — and doing well, too. All of them have been out of reckoning for a year and their early season form is also nothing much to write about.
Another man who could have been handy in Australian conditions is Zaheer Khan, but his age, particularly for a fast bowler, is not allowing him to be fit for the long haul.
The national selectors were clear that none of the stalwarts dropped has a chance of making the final cut and so it made little sense keeping them among the probables.
The selectors picked five openers — two of whom will have to miss out from the final 15, six middle-order batsmen, three wicketkeepers — the third being young Sanju Samson, seven spinners — most of whom are handy batsmen, and eight fast bowlers including all-rounder Stuart Binny.
Surprisingly, Naman Ojha, who is in Australia as cover for Dhoni, doesn’t find a place in the list.
On current form and consistency over the last year, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane should be the three openers — Robin Uthappa and Murali Vijay missing out, unless any of the three favourites performs so awfully in the next two months in Australia that the selectors are compelled to leave him out.
In the middle order, Kohli, Raina and Ambati Rayudu will stay on and since Rohit and Rahane can also bat down, Manoj Tiwari, Kedar Jadhav and Manish Pandey will have to wait and see if any of the certainties find it difficult to bat on the Australian pitches.
Tiwari is the front-runner for the fourth slot, playing more than one good knock, leading East Zone to victory in the Deodhar Trophy, though the other two have done enough as domestic as well as Indian Premier League (IPL) cricketers. They will all come into calculation if the selectors pick Wriddhiman Saha as the second wicketkeeper. Also fighting for this place will be a third spinner.
Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja should be there, though the selectors will be tempted to pick Axar Patel as an all-rounder or their latest favourite wrist spinner Karn Sharma, who also considers himself a batting all-rounder. Karn got the opportunity ahead of Axar to prove himself, having being named in the Test squad.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Varun Aaaron look certain to get the nod and there are three contenders for the fifth spot — Umesh Yadav, Binny and Dhawal Kulkarni. Binny is as much an all-rounder as the spinners are and Kulkarni bowled purposefully against the Sri Lankans.
Much will also depend on how well the fast bowlers carry the load on the long Australia tour, Ishant in particular. For Umesh, the Test series will be a big chance to force his way into the Cup squad.
Elsewhere, Sri Lanka and South Africa will be retaining the core of their 2011 World Cup squads. South Africa will miss only Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis while the Sri Lankans will still have Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Angelo Matthews and, if fit, Lasith Malinga.
The Australians, like the Indians, will have to find at least 10 new players, giving the team a fresh look. England will also be without eight of their 2011 line-up but the Pakistanis will not be affected much as their batting and bowling remain in the experienced hands of those players who took them till the semi-finals four years ago before losing to India.
India went on to win the cup beating Sri Lanka in the final in Mumbai. (IANS)
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)