<b>Close-in:</b> Ready champs?
The upcoming Champions Trophy is an opportunity for the young Indian team not to just gain experience, but also to evaluate itself before the 2019 World Cup
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) finally succumbed to the pressure from the International Cricket Council (ICC) to participate in the Champions Trophy to be held in England from 1 June.
The Indian team selected for the tournament is one that could be termed a safe choice. Rather than one brought through any innovative thinking. The selectors have shown the same submissive approach that the BCCI displayed while handling the controversial issue of the reduction of the revenue receivables from the ICC.
The Indian team selected for the Champions Trophy does not inspire a feeling of a side for the future. India are the reigning title holders and one of the favorites to win. The team selected, however, seems to be more on the lines of pleasing some of the old heroes for their contribution to India’s success in the World Cup 2011 and the Champions Trophy in 2013, rather than looking forward towards the World Cup 2019. This problem has arisen because instead of experimenting with the young aspiring and upcoming cricketers during their last One-day series against England, India took a safe path. The short-term goal of winning that series took precedence over thinking for the future.
The recent performances of the young Indian cricketers in the Indian Premier League (IPL) has shown that India has abundant talent. The Champions Trophy was an ideal opportunity to give them the experience and exposure of the English conditions, as well as evaluate them before the World Cup in 2019.
India in the Champions Trophy are in Group B along with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa. Although on paper, the country looks strong enough to finish as one of the top two teams in their group, my cricket instinct tells me that they will struggle to do so.
Pakistan is a young side comprising players, who have not been battered by India previously. India has always been a slow starter and has its reputation at stake. A brash cocky Pakistan side with young fast and spin bowlers and batsmen without any pressure to perform could be a very dangerous outfit. Sri Lanka is also in the same mould, as both these countries are building their side through raw talent. A defeat against anyone of them could put India in a precarious position as South Africa look strong and one of the favorites to win the cup.

India, according to me, will miss a genuine leg spinner or a Chinaman bowler. The limited-over games have consistently shown that many batsmen around the world are not being able to read the variations of a genuine leg spinner well. India is going into the tournament with two spinners in Ashwin and Jadeja. The wet June English weather conditions could be difficult for a finger spinner to grip and turn off the wicket. A problem faced by all the past Indian spinners in the first half of the season in England. Jadeja in the IPL is not looking his best, especially bowling with a wet ball, due to the dew. Ashwin, one hopes, recovers fully from his hernia operation. The strong Indian batting is also not in their top form. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma will most likely be back as openers, however, both of them have struggled to retain their position in the recent past. Furthermore, Rohit has just come back from an injury and will be under pressure to establish himself.
England has not been an enjoyable experience for Virat Kohli and the heavy conditions and movement of the wicket will once again challenge him. Yuvraj has loads of experience, but he seems to lack the footwork and quick movement of yore and the short bouncing ball seems to be his nemesis. Kedar Jadhav and Manish Pandey are two youngsters, who will need to perform. They both are exuberant at times in their stroke play and are known to throw away wickets when well settled. They will need to play with more maturity for India to win this tournament will depend a lot on how they carry the team to the finish. MS Dhoni unfortunately looks to be struggling.
Rishabh Pant’s performance in the IPL did put a doubt on Dhoni’s selection but the selectors seem to have gone towards the tried and tested. This tournament is a make or break for Dhoni as his aspiration to play the World Cup in 2019 would be a far off dream, if he fails to deliver. Hardik Pandya is a good developing all-rounder. His brash stroke play may not give the same results as one is accustomed to seeing him do in India, but this experience will not only be beneficial to him but also for India in the long run.
The Indian fast bowling has come of age. The only worry is the fitness of Md. Shami. India versus Pakistan on June 2 will be a blockbuster that will not only light Birmingham but also millions of viewers around the World. Good Luck India!
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Indian cricketer)
Yajurvindra Singh