Youngsters in sharp focus

Youngsters in sharp focus

What was originally a seven-match one-day series was converted into two Tests and three one-dayers. and what a blockbuster the first half turned out to be!

With India still high on their Test success, the one-dayers between the world’s two top-ranked sides haven’t been able to generate as much interest as they should have.
Blame it on the frequent diet of the shorter format or the composition of the two teams, but never in the recent past has a one-day series between two of the fiercest modern-day rivals received such a lukewarm build-up.

Considering that the ensuing contest involves three of the 13 50-overs games India will be playing before the World Cup early next year, the clash against the number one one-day side ought to have been taken seriously by the home side.

It could well have been India’s first step towards preparing themselves for the quadrennial event. Instead, the hosts have put up a bunch of youngsters, almost half of whom will not be part of the mega event.

Sachin Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan and Pragyan Ojha have been rested while Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma are tending to injuries of various natures and degrees.

Barring the unforeseen, at least five of these absentees are certain to feature in the World Cup squad and it would have been only prudent to include some of the fitter players in the squad.

With the Ashes against England just round the corner, it made sense for Australia to leave out skipper Ricky Ponting along with Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson, but what explanation do India have for excluding a majority of the team’s core group?

Rest for Dhoni?
And if resting players was so important, then Mahendra Singh Dhoni should have been given first preference, for no other Indian cricketer has played matches than the Indian skipper in the last one year. 

Nevertheless, the brief series provides another opportunity for the high-on-talent but low-on-performance quartet of Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja to stake their claims for a slot or two in the middle-order. For all his Test and T20 exploits, Suresh Raina’s one-day performances too have been less than flattering while the aforesaid four, who largely play only limited-overs games, have a lot to prove, especially after their debacle in the Sri Lankan tri-series this September.

That between Yuvraj, Kohli, Rohit and Jadeja, only 177 runs came from 14 innings in Dambulla reflects their batting woes. Jadeja has done precious little with his left-arm spinners as well since the World T20 in May, and this could be the last chance for the ‘all-rounder’ to justify his extended run.

However, the fast bowling department has more or less the same combination India have been fielding for some time now. Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar will have the assistance of Munaf Patel, who was impressive in Sri Lanka, while R Vinay Kumar gets another look-in. It remains to be seen how the Karnataka paceman and off-spinning all-rounder R Ashwin fare should they get chance to play.

Despite the drubbing in the Tests, Michael Clarke and company appear to have an edge as the visitors enjoy the luxury of more experienced replacements. Australia’s 4-2 defeat of India despite a series of injuries to their key players in the last series here last year just demonstrated their depth of quality players, especially in the abridged format. It might also help that most of the one-day players weren’t part of the Test squad, and hence obviously aren’t as scarred by the 0-2 defeat.

Teams (from):
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Sourab Tiwary, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, R Vinay Kumar.
Australia: Michael Clarke (capt), Cameron White, David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Callum Ferguson, James Hopes, Mike Hussey, Tim Paine, Clint McKay, Doug Bollinger, Steve Smith, Nathan Hauritz, Mitchell Starc, John Hastings.
Umpires: Billy Bowden (New Zealand) and Amish Saheba. Third umpire: Sanjay Hazare. Match referee: Chris Broad (England).
Hours of play: 9.00 am to 12.30 pm; 1.15 pm to end of play.

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