On the eve of departure of India’s ODI team to New Zealand, Indian Cricket Team Captain MS Dhoni spoke to the media, saying the Indian team has players, who can perform in all conditions. It was more like a generalized statement for mass consumption, rather than the true depiction of the team’s real capability. The remaining members of the test squad will join the team; once the ODI series is concluded. Some players may go a bit earlier to acclimatize themselves with the playing conditions in New Zealand.
Whatever MS Dhoni may say; India’s performance in the recently concluded South African tour left a lot to be desired. While India’s bowling looked pedestrian, the supposedly-formidable Indian batting literally crumbled against the fiery pace of South African bowlers. Indians performed reasonably well in the first test at Johannesburg but that was just about all. On the fourth day of the Durban test Robin Peterson and Faf du Plessis treated Indian bowlers like schoolboys and almost achieved an impossible task. Prior to the 2-test series, India were completely done in during the ODI series. Their fielding, which had improved lately, also floundered under the pressure mounted by South Africans. Many runs were yielded by poor fielding by India and there were far too many dropped catches. By and large, it was a very disappointing show by the Indians.
For the New Zealand tour, the composition of the Indian team for the ODIs takes care of some additional variety in bowling but the same thing has not been thought for the test matches. The campaign begins at Napier, where the first ODI will be played on January 19th, with the fifth and final ODI scheduled for January 31st at Wellington. The ODI series will be followed by two test matches, the first of which begins on February 6th at Auckland; and the second on February 14th in Wellington.
For the ODIs, Varun Aaron of Jharkhand has been recalled after a gap of more than two years. Aaron was once clocked for exceeding bowling speed of 153 kph during Vijay Hazare Trophy final against Gujarat in 2011. He has since played 4 ODIs for India, with a dream debut at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium in October 2011 in the fourth ODI against England. In that match, Aaron turned up a good performance in taking 3/24 in 6.1 overs. Aaron’s last ODI for India was against the West Indies at Vizag in December 2011, where he was smashed for 66 runs in 10 overs in an eminently forgettable performance. He has not been considered for the ODI games since then, but his recent performances in domestic games could have worked in his favour.
The second new face for the ODI games is Stuart Binny, the 29 year old all-rounder from Karnataka. Binny bowls medium-pace and he is a very useful middle-order batsman. He is one of those, who can be relied upon for mounting an assault, when required. His performance for the Rajasthan Royals in IPL matches, last season has earned him lot of appreciation from the legendary Rahul Dravid. Binny was also a part of the India A squad, which went to South Africa early last year.
But the most surprising change in ODI and Test squads is the inclusion of Madhya Pradesh Speedster, Ishwar Pandey. From the test team, which went to South Africa, Pandey’s inclusion is the only change. However, the fact that the talented Pragyan Ojha had to make way for Pandey, is the only aspect, which is beyond reconciliation. In any case, Ishwar Pandey’s inclusion has been based on his performance over the last two Ranji Trophy seasons. He was a leading wicket taker for Madhya Pradesh in the 2012-13 Ranji season. That he also bowls economically is evident from his figures of 48 wickets at 21.06 in that Ranji Season. In the current season too, Pandey has already taken 30 wickets at 24.76. Bowling against Railways in a Group B Ranji match, Pandey enacted his best performance when he took 8 Railways’ wickets for just 84. Ishwar Pandey bowls with speeds exceeding 130 kph and uses his tall and broad frame to extract useful bounce, even from deliveries, which land on good length spots. On the fast bouncy New Zealand pitches, Pandey’s bowling can be quite handy.
One issue that the selctors didn’t address was the choice of reserve wicketkeeper. They have persisted with Wriddhiman Saha, whereas, Dinesh Kartik or Parthiv Patel could have been chosen instead. Ravinder Jadeja is perhaps the only all-rounder, who demonstrated his class in the Durban test.