CHAK DE INDIA !
Current form, a phrase often used in cricket, has been the current team management’s go-to answer to the questions raised about the team selection for the World Cup. A few big names were left out of the World Cup squad, mostly because of injury concerns, as the team management revealed later. But there have been a few surprising inclusions, as well, which defy the pattern of selections over the last year-and-a-half.
While SV Sunil, Ramandeep Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh were left out due to “injury problems”, Sardar Singh’s exclusion even from the core group was surprising. The exclusion was not a surprise in itself — it was expected any day after the Rio Olympics. What defied logic was why, after he was not considered for selection for two major tournaments over the last year-and-a-half, was Sardar recalled for the Champions Trophy in June? If he was being given another chance, his selection in the Asian Games squad was proof that he had passed the test. But he was again excluded, following which he retired. Maybe, the team management and the selection panel felt that Sardar had lost his form — the form that he had suddenly regained before the Champions Trophy and astonishingly lost so close to the World Cup.
Moving on from the retired former captain, India have decided to take a fairly young and inexperienced team into the World Cup. Of the 18 members, 13 are 25 or below, including the 19-year-old Dilpreet Singh. Only PR Sreejesh is in the 30s. However, age doesn’t tell how experienced a player is. Except Hardik Singh, all other players are at least into double figures in their senior international careers. Six players have not reached 50 international caps, though that doesn’t show the whole picture either. The perplexing aspect is the pattern of selections in 2018.
In the current team, Hardik, Dilpreet Singh, Simranjeet Singh and goalkeeper Krishan Pathak made their international debuts in 2018. Nilakanta Sharma first played for the senior team in August last year on a tour of Europe but didn’t make another appearance till January this year in a four-nation tournament in New Zealand. Sharma and Simranjeet played another tournament after the four-nation event but were left out of the Commonwealth Games squad. Simranjeet and Dilpreet have been regulars in the team since, but Sharma played only 12 matches since March, six of those friendlies. Another Junior World Cup winning team member, Sumit, has 49 international appearances but only 12 since the CWG in April — six of those were friendlies. Hardik, Sharma and Sumit are part of the Indian midfield, which has been unsettled for long, proving to be a big concern for the team.
So, the question arises: what form is the team management talking about? The recent form — the Asian Champions Trophy and friendly matches? The form in big tournaments, which Hardik and Sharma haven’t played, while Sumit last played in one eight months ago? Or is it the players’ form in practice, and is it the right yardstick? “(Form from) every day,” said India’s analytical coach Chris Ciriello.
But if these players have not been consistent enough to hold their spots for six months, what form would they show at the World Cup? “Some of these players have come from the junior team, winning the World Cup at home. Some have played major tournaments. You have to select from the players you have, and the quality is what you have to select from,” added Ciriello, who has been with the team since January.
Why were these players not given more exposure at the top level? “What we need to look at is the balance of what they have actually done. We have to take into consideration the fitness level,” he said.