x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

India are looking to the future and World Cup 2015 defence

The decision not to include Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh in the Champions Trophy squad hints at an administration looking ahead, writes Dileep Premachandran.

Yuvraj Singh. left, and Gautam Gambhir, right, will not be part of India's Champions Trophy squad.
Yuvraj Singh. left, and Gautam Gambhir, right, will not be part of India's Champions Trophy squad.

Suspect A hit 97 in a World Cup final win. Suspect B was man of the tournament in the same competition. Neither had a great home season, tallying 161 and 160 runs in eight matches against Pakistan and England.

That rough patch should, however, be viewed against the fact both have had immense one-day international careers, with more than 400 matches and 24 centuries between them.

Suspect C has played 11 ODIs down the years, with a highest score of 33. Like Suspect B, he has also had a miserable Indian Premier League season so far.

Suspect D has not, playing a couple of superb innings, but 88 games into his ODI career, his remains a story of unfulfilled promise. In his past 10 matches for India, he has made 176 runs, with eight single-digit scores.

Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh, Suspect A and Suspect B, find no place in theIndia squad for the Champions Trophy. Murali Vijay and Rohit Sharma, Suspects C and D, do. They are unquestionably the controversial picks in the 15-man squad that also sees a return for the in-form Dinesh Karthik.

By the time he returned to play those eight games in the home season, Yuvraj had been away for nearly 18 months, fighting and then recovering from cancer. Those were his first matches back, and it seems harsh to make a judgement on him so quicky.

In Gambhir's case, the failures against Pakistan and England - and it must be stressed here that the batting, bar Dhoni, was dreadful against Pakistan - followed a successful series in Sri Lanka. He made a century and was top-scorer for India in three of the five matches as they won 4-1. Rohit made 13 runs in those games.

The more you look at the 15 chosen, the more you get the impression that it is a side chosen with the 2015 World Cup in mind. Karthik, though he made his debut nearly a decade ago, is still only 27 and his inclusion gives the side a back-up wicketkeeping option too.

The accent on the bowling side is also very much on building for the future. Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh are gone from those who played the 2011 World Cup final, as is Sreesanth, whose recent outburst about Harbhajan and "Slapgate" can't have done his cause any good. Ravichandran Ashwin, India's premier spin option, was part of the World Cup squad, but didn't play the final.

Only Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli remain from that XI, with Sachin Tendulkar now retired and Virender Sehwag dropped a year after his world-record 219. Two of the new-ball options chosen, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, have played only a handful of times for India. Vinay Kumar, one of those expected to serve as back-up, is also inexperienced on the big stage.

The two experienced pace bowlers are Ishant Sharma, who has never had a long run in the side, and Irfan Pathan, who is nothing like the bowler he used to be six or seven years ago.

Vinay, Bhuvneshwar and Irfan are all well short of express pace, but could greatly enjoy early summer in England when the ball tends to swing and most pitches aid seam movement. Yadav, back from the back injury that forced him to miss three Tests against England and four against Australia, is genuinely quick, but also wayward, while Ishant can be a handful when the rhythm's right.

Discussion in the days ahead will definitely centre on the dropped duo. With Zaheer and Harbhajan, there was a feeling that their best was long in the past. With Yuvraj, whose struggle with cancer and subsequent return have made him more than just a cricket player for millions, it is far too early to pass such judgement.

In Gambhir's case, you also wonder about the impact of the controversies in which he has been embroiled during the current IPL. There was an unseemly exchange of words with Kohli, and he did himself no favours with the way he behaved when Manvinder Bisla appeared to abuse Rahul Dravid during a recent game.

Dhoni has also made no secret of his preference for players who are assets in the field. Yuvraj in his younger days was a brilliant fielder, and Gambhir a safe one. Neither has reached such standards in recent times. Kohli, Raina and Ravindra Jadeja now set the tone in the inner ring, and more than one Australian journalist who covered the recent Test series remarked on how much better India's fielding was.

Gambhir has been named in the list of 21 probables for the tri-nation series in West Indies (which includes Sri Lanka) that follows the Champions Trophy. Yuvraj finds no place on that, either. With both men approaching their 32nd birthdays, the road back is not going to be easy.


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