By Anand Basu
Seven television channels on the Star network simultaneously telecast live the announcement of the Indian cricket team’s 15-man provisional squad for the 2019 World Cup. This, when election fever is gripping the country and is top of the mind for most people, cutting across different starts of society. Such is the power and reach of cricket that something as routine as the announcement of a squad becomes a must-watch event. The one person wishing he was hiding behind the couch looking through his fingers was Rishabh Pant, who perhaps felt that a horror movie was unfolding as his name did not feature. Pant, who is 21, will undoubtedly have his day in the sun, but for the moment, the selectors, led by MSK Prasad, chose bankability over bling, stumping for Dinesh Karthik.
Pant has reason to be confused, given that he is the first-choice Test wicketkeeper, the format in which specialisation behind the stumps weighs more heavily than the ability to contribute with the bat. But, when Prasad was asked to explain the decision, his reasoning was hard to fault.
“It’s definitely a case where we have debated at length and all of us, in unison, felt that either Rishabh Pant or Dinesh Karthik will only come into the playing XI if MS Dhoni is injured. So, at that juncture, if it is a crucial match, like a semi-final or an important game, wicketkeeping also matters,” Prasad said.
“So under such situations, in crunch matches, who is the best guy who can handle the pressure? That is the reason that went in favour of Dinesh Karthik. Pant is full of talent. There’s a lot of time for him. It’s just unfortunate that he’s missed out. Under pressure, we have seen Dinesh Karthik finishing matches. That scored for him.”
While Prasad singled out Karthik’s wicketkeeping, his ability to build innings, protect partnerships and close games from tight situations as a batsman undoubtedly helped him edge past Pant, who is explosive, energetic but as yet raw enough to repeat mistakes when under the pump.
There was no place also for Ambati Rayudu, who seemed to be a shoo-in for the No. 4 spot not long ago. The team invested heavily in him even while trying other options for the slot, but his form tailed off at precisely the wrong time, opening the door for Vijay Shankar to be pressed into service. Add to this the bowling and fielding strings in Shankar’s bow, and you cannot fault this selection either.
The inclusion of Ravindra Jadeja making it three all-rounders in the mix, might appear to be one spinner too many for English conditions, especially with only three specialist quick bowlers in the mix, but he brings too much to the table to be ignore. Another tick mark for the men who built this squad.
This selection committee, led by Prasad and including Sarandeep Singh, Devang Gandhi, Jatin Paranjape and Gagan Khoda, the last two having been re-added to the committee lately, has often been described as lightweight, owing to how much international cricket they have played. But, what this group lacked in playing experience they have made up with wisdom, at least as far as the selection of this squad is concerned.
They could have punted on Shreyas Iyer or taken the safe option of Ajinkya Rahane at the No. 4 position. They could have stuck with Rayudu, who has enjoyed more game-time than any of the other contenders for the position. But, instead of looking at players as individuals, instead of choosing and rejecting on sentiment, they took a step back and put together a squad that gives Virat Kohli more options than most Indian captains have had the luxury of choosing from, when picking eleven to step on the field.
To the extent possible, the selectors have done all they can, behind closed doors. They’re pillioried often and easily, it would take an especially mean or one-eyed person to point a finger in their direction on this occasion. Since they accept the brickbats with grace, it’s only fair that a fragrant bouquet is sent their way when they have earned it.
The simple truth of the matter is that all the weapons are ship-shape, welloiled and primed to give Kohli the best chance of succeeding. What happens on the ground is something nobody can predict with any degree of accuracy, but this is a team that should advance strongly into the knockouts, and then be in a position to deliver the killer blow when the time comes.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)