The West Indies cricket team have been blanked completely by a margin of 3-0 by the hosts on its last two tours for an ODI series in the subcontinent. One against Sri Lanka and the other one against Bangladesh. In 2021, the Windies even lost to Australia at home but more shockingly Kieron Pollard’s side was defeated by Ireland by 2-1 recently. This perhaps is enough to illustrate the fact that the current West Indian side is certainly not one of the most fearsome teams in international cricket and yet Indian selectors seem to be frightened by the prospect of losing to them. The chief selector Chetan Sharma and his colleagues had a marathon meeting with new captain Rohit Sharma along with coach Rahul Dravid on Republic Day and the teams they announced for the ODI and the T20 series comprising three matches each gives the impression that they are way too defensive.
Tamil Nadu’s Shahrukh Khan as middle order batsman and Himachal Pradesh’s Rishi Dhawan couldn’t make it to any of the white ball squads perhaps once again underlines the fact that for selectors domestic cricket means the IPL and not necessarily the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy or Vijay Hazare tournament - the unglamorous domestic tournaments in comparison to the IPL. Both Khan and Dhawan could have been accommodated as was the case with Rajasthan leg spinner Ravi Bishnoi. Bishnoi’s lack of sparkle in domestic cricket didn’t seem to hurt his cause as he had just eight scalps in six List A games. The Rajasthan bowler was even wicketless in two of the matches. The leg-spinner didn’t have an outstanding Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy (8 wickets in 6 games with an economy rate around 6.50) either but in IPL 2021 his dozen wickets in 9 matches was still fresh in selectors’ memory. Ironically, another leggie, Rahul Chahar (brother of pacer Deepak Chahar) who was better than Bishnoi in IPL has been forgotten in a hurry just after getting a single game in T20 World Cup last year. The Mumbai Indians leggie Chahar in fact, had performed admirably in his debut ODI against Sri Lanka where he picked up three wickets. Perhaps, Chahar deserved one more series at home before being discarded. Since Yuzvendra Chahal is already there in the squad as a senior leg-spinner, it is unlikely that Bishnoi will get a game against West Indies.
KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer and Suryakumar Yadav are expected to be the back-bone of the new middle order in the ODI matches. Rahul was a stop-gap arrangement as an opener in South Africa because captain Rohit Sharma was unfit. Since, Rishabh Pant will also bat in the middle-order, wouldn’t it be better if Virat Kohli was given a break in this series so that Iyer and Yadav could have been assured of all the three games? In South Africa, Yadav got just one game after series was already lost.
Besides Rahul Chahar, another player who must be disappointed could be Jharkhand’s wicketkeeper batsman Ishan Kishan who too was part of the T20 World. In fact, Kishan was with the ODI team in South Africa but found his name missing from the ODI team despite not even getting a single match in South Africa! Like Kishan, Madhya Pradesh’s all-rounder Venkatesh Iyer too has been dropped from the ODI team and just retained in T20 squad. Iyer who had a prolific IPL 2021 came into the Indian team with a big promise but two games in South Africa now gives the impression that selectors feel that it is now better to gamble on someone like Deepak Hooda as Iyer is still not ready for the 50 over format as an all-rounder. This is the second time Hooda has made it to the Indian team but this time it he is more likely to get a few games which he didn’t last time.
Perhaps, the Indian selectors also seem to have forgotten a fact that in ODIs, it is nearly impossible for even the strongest teams to defeat the host. In the last one decade, only South Africa and Australia have managed a series win in bilateral contests in India in the 50 over format. This should have emboldened the selectors to take some bold measures so that a new template could have been found. Or at least, it could have allowed them to try something innovative and out of the box especially against a team which is currently languishing at the bottom (number 8) in ICC’s team rankings. Even if India wins easily against Pollard side next month, it will not achieve much in terms of ascertaining the potential of some new faces for the ODI format.