India’s ICC World Cup team selection is all about fear of failure

The smartly brave punt would be on India reaching the World Cup semifinals. Beyond that, if nationalism doesn’t colour the betting skills, it would be a very courageous person to pick this team as a winner.

It would take inspired captaincy from Rohit Sharma, allied with a very intelligent selection of the playing XI on the day, to go beyond that. For a tournament that will decide their legacy, both Rohit and Rahul Dravid have their hands and heads full in what would be a very taxing World Cup campaign.

If they do it, they will go down in history as great leaders; if they don’t, it won’t be a shock.

When the selection of World Cup venues for India games were announced, a pattern emerged. All slow, potentially spin-abetting tracks, carefully chosen for the opponents suggested a CSK-level planning. Australia will be hit at Chennai, England will be ambushed at the slow turner at Lucknow, South Africa will be taken down at the sluggish Kolkata, Pakistan on a pace-and-spin sucking belter in Ahmedabad, and Sri Lanka will be downed at the 2011 World Cup final paata. The opponents’ strengths were tamed by the Indian strength, or so the feeling it gave.

It hasn’t quite played out that way. Keeping with the trend of lack of exemplary planning or confident punts, further hit by injuries, and above all by the fear of lack of balance, India have gone with a squad that’s neither here nor there.

It’s fear or apprehension that leaps out of the selection.

What if our No.8 to No.11 don’t get the 20 runs. What if our spinner – be it R Ashwin or the leg spinner Yuzvendra Chahal– get hit and don’t score runs. What if the top three fail. What if the opposition spinners like Adam Zampa or Rashid Khan out spin Indian spinners. What if Jasprit Bumrah isn’t quite at his fluent best and can last a two-month tournament? What if the middle-order doesn’t come off.

And to patch up that fretful apprehension, they have resorted to band-aid their potential weak spots. Get in Shardul Thakur in hope that he will be the allrounder like Mitch Marsh. Get in Axar Patel and hope he can wriggle through with his bowling without bleeding too many runs but save India with the bat.

Like EQing headphones. Less bass? Amp up the dbs in the low frequency. Too much treble? Amp down the higher frequency. Muddy vocals, tune the mid-frequency. But if the instrument itself doesn’t quite hold up in quality, EQing will fall flat.

Apprehension and not planning has laced the selection path. When Suryakumar Yadav couldn’t fire at No.4 or No.5, only then the talk of a left-handed option was talked up; enter Ishan Kishan. It won’t be a surprise despite Ishan’s success against Pakistan at the Asia Cup, Dravid won’t be breathing easy. He might be feeling what Sunil Gavaskar pointed out — how that partnership was down to the faulty captaincy by Babar Azam who kept the pacers out for a long while.

Like the thought when the pitches were selected seemed to have evaporated soon. That plan was understandable to an extent. If India, with an unbalanced squad, had to succeed, then they probably thought it’s best to punt on turners and have the best spinners on it. The CSK way, for years. But they didn’t have the confidence to carry on that punt. They pulled out Ashwin and Chahal out of the race as they feared about the batting depth.

Wicket-taking skills in the vital middle-overs now lies with Kuldeep Yadav. Critical runs from the lower order depends on Hardik Pandya. If Kuldeep doesn’t fire, then it will be hoped that Bumrah or Shami can pull out a special spell against the odds. Or luck favours through Shardul’s break-through ability. If Pandya doesn’t fire with the bat, then hope that Jadeja does that job. It’s not even clear, going by their recent games, if India are confident to launch both Shami and Bumrah; or will the fear of batting power make them separate the two?

Nothing much was really pulled through with conviction. Umran Malik experiment never took off due to lack of trust, the spinners’ punt folded easily.

Nothing is of real surprise. In the lead up to the T20 World Cup in Australia, some of the names that came in and swiftly moved out were the likes of Deepak Hooda, Venkatesh Iyer. Why were they selected in the first place and wasted crucial games in the lead-up remained a mystery. As was the case when nearly all successful teams went with a leg spinner, India chose to bench Chahal. And play Harshal Patel, a more unsuitable candidate in Australian conditions couldn’t have been envisioned.

That’s the kind of move that rankles; they have punted on strange destined-for-failure choices, but don’t have the courage to take the same risk on more potentially-better choices like Chahal (in that T20 World Cup).

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If that T20 World Cup campaign was paved on the roads of messy experimenting, this ODI World Cup has run on nervy hope. The choice of the paths shut down, and the timing of the close down tell a tale. If there had to be a choice between Ashwin in a T20 tournament in Australia or an ODI competition in India, the choice would seem clear to most. Not with the team.

The team management no doubt sees it as prudent decisions. They aren’t confident yet about how their pacers Bumrah and Shami will last a two-month gruelling tournament where the choice of venues means India are shuttling across the length and breadth of the country. They have a real understandable worry about the runs from the lower order. Rishabh Pant’s injury, and concerns over fitness of KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, who had seemingly solved the No.4 problem before he went out, and back injury to Bumrah, their Powerplays and end-overs trump card.

With their worry about the runs at bottom and lack of confidence in the middle, they have tinkered with both batting and bowling. But band-aids can’t be trusted. If India pull off a heist by winning the World Cup, it will come down to Rohit Sharma the captain, pulling off masterful moves with some luck and a lot of pluck from his chosen men.

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