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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Asia Cup Cricket: What A Relief, India In Super Four!


Yes, it is indeed a huge relief that India have reached the Super Four stage of the Unimoni Asia Cup-2018 and that they are going to play Pakistan at least two times, the big one coming up tomorrow in Dubai. Because, Team Hong Kong has suffered two losses--one at the hands of Pakistan and the other to India tonight, the latter being a most unwelcome thriller for Indian fans. This sense of relief owes its origins to two basic reasons, like it or not.

First, after the ODI series loss and the Test series disaster in England Team India has suffered a telling loss of credibility. There, only captain Virat Kohli played with some of the bowlers in tandem, and now here in UAE even the captain is missing with the one day specialists brought in again. Therefore, you never know who in Team India will play and who will play how. Upsets are common in tournaments, and last night Afghanistan eliminated Sri Lanka, one of the main contenders for the Cup despite everything. Tonight's match was almost another upset with India winning narrowly by 26 runs. The noisy celebration of the Indian fans expressed the same sense of huge relief. With Rashid and other spinners Afghanistan is going to be a challenge for any team in Super Four.

Second and most importantly, India seems to be continuing relentlessly with its selection blues. This was India’s first match and the crucial start of the Asia Cup campaign. And yet, India have begun their campaign with experimentation. They have given debut to one and took in a few others in lieu of experienced cricketers who were available, sitting resting or whatever in the  dressing room. Selection of Dinesh Karthik is also to be questioned, because he was taken in only in the third and final ODI against England where he couldn’t do anything special. So, why select him adding one more wicket-keeper to the team? Team management defends it thus—resting important players from the sapping heat. Well, do they play the IPL during the great Indian winter back home? Of course, there is one more defense still—the uncanny schedule giving India two back to back matches. However, such games do help players warming up well for bigger games.

The basic point is that team management has deprived their most experienced players of precious match practice just a day before the all-important encounter with Pakistan. It is to be noted that Pakistan had fielded their full-strength team in their first match against Hong Kong. Pakistan have already been playing mind games, openly relishing the idea of Virat-less India, and now the Indian Experiment would further embolden their approach. After the Indian batting and bowling displayed tonight there will be more questions regarding selection in the Pakistan match.

India failed to reach the 300 mark against a team playing a major international tournament for the first time making just 48 runs in the last ten overs losing five wickets. Except for the Shikhar Dhawan century, a bright starter from Rohit Sharma and a good effort by Ambati Rayadu there was hardly any major score from anybody including the crucial factor of MS Dhoni. Of course, Dhoni is here to stay, but will they drop all others who were only experimented with? How would the selectors ensure that the experienced players to be taken in now will deliver in the very first match? What would they do with Kedar Jadhav? Get rid of him after this solitary chance? We watched tonight Hong Kong tackling Indian pacers most efficiently scoring more than 50 runs in the first 10 overs without loss, and keeping up the momentum overcoming the Indian spinners too till the match was nearly sealed by them. Would the strike bowlers to be taken in strike indeed in the very first outing?

Therefore, this profound sense of relief! Whatever happens in the next match, India will be one of the top two teams from Group A and will continue to play the Super Four matches including a second encounter with Pakistan from 21st September onwards.

Hope Team India rebuilding happens quick and fast, and the liabilities both in the team and in team management removed faster. Some sort of a ‘problem of plenty’ is setting in ominously for the Indian cricket management. With the ICC World Cup-2019 round the corner India cannot afford to go on with its mindless experimentation killing players’ spirit and confidence in the process. Identify your best 15, make them bind into a team, give them trust and confidence and give them a run till the World Cup so that they can fight single-mindedly to win it. This Team-15 is for the one day format, and ideally for all the formats with the barest minimum of ‘specialist’ interchanging.
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