India have started their limited overs tour of West Indies in good form and lead the hosts one-nil in the best-of-five ODI series. In the one washout and one completed match, India have handed an ODI debut to left arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav, who impressed with figures of 3/50 from nine overs.
Glaringly, Yadav, and Delhi wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant are the only new faces in the squad from the one that finished second at the recently concluded ICC Champions Trophy in England. Despite a long and gruelling season which started with a Test tour of the same West Indian shores back in July 2016 followed by home series against New Zealand, England, Bangladesh, Australia, the Indian Premier League and the Champions Trophy, India have stuck with a largely familiar squad for this limited overs tour.
While all those series may not have involved ODI cricket and many of this squad have had breaks along the way — whether due to injury or not featuring in all formats — this tour, tacked on at the end of the Champions Trophy, was the perfect opportunity for the Indian selectors to have a look at some of the young talent making a name for themselves in domestic cricket and the Indian Premier League. An opportunity that has now gone begging.
Perhaps the senior players in the ODI squad wanted to atone for the Champions Trophy final humbling at the hands of arch-rivals Pakistan, but this squad was named before the tournament was over. Regardless of when the squad was selected, a meaningless ODI series with little context against the world’s ninth ranked team is hardly the place for redemption.
India need to begin planning for the 2019 World Cup in England, the next major ODI tournament, and have a look at players who they believe are capable of being part of that squad. In the past, former captain MS Dhoni has said he believes players must have at least 50-60 ODIs under their belt before a World Cup. India, however, have shown they are more reluctant than sides like Pakistan to take uncapped or inexperienced players into a major world tournament — hence the conservative squad selection for the Champions Trophy which saw India lack quality spin bowling options and middle order hitting power.
With the future in mind, it is an indictment on the team’s planning and forward thinking that Pant and Kuldeep are the only new faces in this squad touring the Caribbean whilst ageing stars Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh are persisted with. There is no doubting Yuvraj and Dhoni’s standing in the game, both will go down as greats of India in limited overs cricket, if not world cricket, but with the 2019 World Cup in mind it is time these two pillars of modern Indian cricket either step aside, or are removed.
Both are now 35 and their powers are on the wane. Whilst we are still treated to glimpses of their prowess, it is akin to watching a punch drunk boxer land a few haymakers before he hits the canvas. The longer Yuvraj and Dhoni play, especially batting at four and five, the more chances to grow into these roles are denied to younger players.
India has a glut of batting talent sitting at home that could have been exposed to international cricket on this tour and tested in important roles in the side. The likes of Shreyas Iyer, Sanju Samson, Rahul Tripathi, and Nitish Rana could all have been tried out on this tour based on IPL and domestic form, or any other young batting talent that the selectors have their eyes on. Pant should be in the starting eleven for all five games, but has already been left out for the first two.
On sluggish Caribbean surfaces, India could have also tested out their spin bowling depth. The Champions Trophy showed that Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are struggling in ODI cricket and selectors shouldn’t select players in a particular format based on their performances in another, particularly when they are picking a limited overs side based on Test performances. Ashwin and Jadeja are proven Test performers, especially in India, but the Champions Trophy exposed their weakness and limited wicket-taking threat in the 50-over format.
Kuldeep’s selection is positive one, as wrist spinners are proving difficult to pick with batsmen continuing to prefer attack and aggression over technique and graft in modern one-day cricket. It would have also been worth trying the likes of leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal or spin bowling all-rounders Krunal Pandya, Axar Patel and Pawan Negi.
With Jasprit Bumrah rested, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar deserving of a rest after having proven himself to be India’s most consistent seamer across formats and conditions, this West Indian tour would have been the perfect opportunity to see what Siddarth Kaul, Jaydev Unadkat and Shardul Thakur are capable of at the highest level.
While the World Cup might seem a long way away, two years go by very quickly in international cricket. Clearly the Indian think-tank is keeping the faith in some senior players, but at the very least they must have a plan B should those players lose form or fitness before the World Cup. With India’s tendency to pick experienced squads, they don’t want to end up in a situation where they are forced to pick players who haven’t been exposed to international cricket because the senior stars are injured.
To avoid such situations, it is best to test the quality of the bench strength and younger players when the opportunity arises, and this limited overs tour of the lowly West Indies is the perfect low-key setting to do so. It seems India has missed a trick with their short-term thinking, hopefully it doesn’t cost them in the long term.