India’s World Cup 15: Dhoni’s last stand, selectors’ safe approach, and a shocker

Ending weeks of speculation, the selectors yesterday announced the 15-man Indian squad for the 2015 World Cup. While the possible permutations and combinations were like manna from heaven for cricket columnists and bloggers like yours truly, the final squad had ‘obvious’ written all over it. Well, almost.

The batting line-up, as expected, was not tampered with at all. Speculations were rife about Murali Vijay forcing his way into the team on the back of fabulous Test-form, but the powers-that-be ultimately decided not to consider form in one format of the game for entry into another. Fair enough, but this begs the question as to why he was included in the 30 in the first place? If established ODI credentials have more weightage than current form, then Yuvraj Singh might have been a much better option in the original 30. The inclusion was allegedly made to have a back-up opening option, if required. Between then and now, the need for a back-up opener has been highlighted several times, with Shikhar Dhawan looking woefully out of place on Australian pitches. On the other hand, Vijay has hardly placed a foot wrong, defending stodgily and attacking as and when required, to make a statement of reliability at the top. Therefore, irrespective of this being a viable selection or not, Vijay has reason to be disappointed.

The continued faith in Ravindra Jadeja and Shikhar Dhawan, the latter not exactly the apple of the eye of a certain Virat Kohli, indicates that Dhoni has had a significant influence on team selection, in what could possibly be the enigmatic captain’s last stand in even the shorter format of the game. With Jadeja not 100% fit, and Yuvraj in red-hot form in domestic cricket, there was a case for a from-the-heart decision which could have even found favor with the head, but yet again, the non-inclusion has Dhoni’s signature scrawled all over it. While it’s too early to comment on the correctness of the decision, it would be unforgivable if one the three spinners, a number which I feel is a luxury given that not more than one is expected to make it to the playing XI, ends up a tourist on the Australian safari. In that very likely scenario, not having a usable option would be a cardinal sin.
Dhoni’s faith in himself, and the corresponding faith of selectors in him, is also underlined by the fact that the squad does not have a reserve wicket-keeper, with Rayudu filling in as the pseudo glovesman. While I was perfectly happy with a similar scenario four years ago, an older and more injury-prone Dhoni should probably have had a Sanju Samson or Wriddhiman Saha as the back-up keeper. Dhoni has always made bold decisions, and this one will rank right up there; whether he is lauded or flayed for it, only time will tell.
As with the batsmen, the selectors have played safe when picking bowlers. Both Jadeja and Ashwin have had a horrendous year as far as ODIs are concerned, even in home conditions, but including them is of course, a safe choice. Akshar deserves a spot; an extraordinary 2014 across the shorter and shortest formats of the game makes him the number 1 ODI spinner in the country, on current form, and I would back him to be a consistent inclusion in the final XI, also taking into account his clean hitting skills down the order. I keep coming back to the unnecessary three-spinner luxury; Akshar on merit, and one out of Ashwin or Jadeja, or reputation, may have been the better choice.
A man largely overlooked, but in my opinion, the unluckiest among the 15 who were shown the door, is Dhawal Kulkarni. The Mumbaikar was exceptional in the Australian Quadrangular ODI series between the ODI teams of India, Australia and South Africa, emerging as the top wicket-taker, and continued in the same vein in ensuing domestic List A competitions, including the experimental Sri Lanka series, India’s final ODI engagement before the WC selection. 
Finally the shocker – Stuart Binny. With all due respect to his alleged talent and Herculean but unseen (except perhaps by Bangladesh on an international platform) abilities, Binny has done little of note this season, especially on the List A scene. Even in England, aided by conditions perfectly suited for his dibbly dobblers, Binny was mediocre, putting it mildly. Perhaps he could spring a surprise by ending up as India’s MVP of the tournament, and then we could go crazy over the absolutely inspired foresight, but till that glorious moment arrives, shocker is the best I can do.