x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Cricket teams gamble on experience in their World Cup squads

Experience and spinners are the key as sides include even injured names as they lay stake for the biggest prize in cricket.

NEW DELHI // Most World Cup teams have opted for experience with many risking injured players for the upcoming tournament to be played in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

The deadline for the 14 teams to announce their final 15-man squads to the International Cricket Council ended Wednesday ahead of the February 19 start of the event.

Unsurprisingly, most selection committees bolstered their spin attacks for the slow pitches on the subcontinent, with the notable exception of Australia, which picked only one front-line spinner in Nathan Hauritz and one spinning allrounder in Steven Smith.

India looks the most formidable and balanced team, combining a fine recent record with the advantage of home conditions.

Batting great Sachin Tendulkar will lead a star-studded lineup in his record-equaling sixth World Cup. However, Tendulkar returned home due to a hamstring injury midway through a one-day series in South Africa, one of four players battling injuries.

Fellow top-order batsmen Virender Sehwag (shoulder) and Gautam Gambhir (hand), plus seam bowler Praveen Kumar (elbow) are the others currently out of action.

Piyush Chawla is the surprise inclusion for India as a third specialist spinner after veteran Harbhajan Singh and the promising Ravichandran Ashwin, especially considering there are several part-time options, too.

Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni is understood to have asked for the legspinner, who last played for India more than two years ago, to be the backup for the relatively new Ashwin.

India will be staging the event for the third time, having reached the semi-finals on the previous occasions in 1987 and 1996, and the country's selectors are confident the team can win the title.

"We are confident we will win playing in India. The current team's form gives us a lot of confidence," said chief selector Krishnamachari Srikkanth, who was part of the 1983 World Cup-winning squad.

Australia, chasing a record fifth title and fourth consecutive victory, has also gone for the tried and tested in a squad that contains seven players from the 2007 edition.

Ricky Ponting (finger) and Michael Hussey (hamstring) are still recuperating, while speedsters Brett Lee and Shaun Tait have just recovered from elbow injuries and will lead a potent pace attack that also includes Mitchell Johnson and Doug Bollinger.

The all-around capabilities of Shane Watson, John Hastings and David Hussey are expected to add depth to the bowling attack, aided by the spin of Hauritz and Smith.

"One of the major decisions to be made in this squad was ensuring the balance was right in the squad to provide the best cover for all positions in the event of injury, illness or form issues that may arise," chief selector Andrew Hilditch said.

South Africa, which has made three semi-finals in its five World Cup appearances, has focused on spin.

Pakistan-born legspinner Imran Tahir and legspinning allrounder Faf du Plessis have been picked to enhance a formidable pace attack that consists of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and left-armers Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Wayne Parnell.

Allrounder Jacques Kallis is not playing in the current ODI series against India due to a rib injury but is expected to recover.

"Jacques is undergoing rehabilitation at the moment, but we are confident with four weeks to go until the World Cup we can get him ready to partake," Team Manager Mohammed Moosajee said.

In excellent recent form in all formats of the sport, England has also enhanced its slow bowling attack by picking offspinner James Tredwell as back up for Graeme Swann and Michael Yardy.

The Andrew Strauss-led side has the experienced Paul Collingwood, Luke Wright and Stuart Broad as allrounders, while wicketkeeper Matt Prior returns to the ODI squad at the expense of Steven Davies.

"We believe we have selected an extremely exciting World Cup squad that offers balance with several options across the entire squad," national selector Geoff Miller was quoted as saying by Cricinfo.com. "With this tournament being staged on the subcontinent, the conditions will require a specific style of cricket and we feel that we've selected a squad that can prosper in these conditions."

Sri Lanka, winner of the 1996 World Cup as a co-host, ignored veterans Sanath Jayasuriya and Chaminda Vaas but felt Muttiah Muralitharan is still the best man to lead a spin attack that also consists of Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath.

The Kumar Sangakkara-led side has considerable experience in batting and an advantage in playing its early matches at home.

West Indies' bowling attack will be led by Kemar Roach, while Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dwayne Bravo will be expected to get among the runs for the team that won the first two World Cups, in 1975 and '79.

The team also won the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy in England, but has struggled with inconsistency ever since.

"We believe that we have come up with a good mix of players who will be able to do well in the Asian conditions," selection committee chairman Clyde Butts said.

New Zealand, which had a disastrous run on the subcontinent recently when it lost 4-0 to Bangladesh in a five-match series and was then thrashed 5-0 by India, is going in with more or less the same side.

Uncapped allrounder Luke Woodcock's left-arm spin enhances the slow bowling options, a department led by captain Daniel Vettori.

Pakistan has also gone with continuity, once again ignoring veteran Mohammad Yousuf and dropping seamer Tanvir Ahmed as the only man from the current 16-member team in New Zealand not to make the cut.

Surprisingly, Pakistan has not yet named a skipper.

Bangladesh, which knocked out India in the first round of the last World Cup, has played it safe by not selecting injury-prone fast bowling allrounder Mashrafe Mortaza due to a knee complaint.