Twenty to go. This is how the Indian team would be looking at their one-day cricket from now on. Twenty matches to go before the World Cup. And when the time comes to play that first World Cup game, India should feel that they have looked at all the options available till now and this is what we think is the best. The best 15 players that gives us the best shot at the Cup.
I would like to think that the selectors are still looking and their net is still spread wide out there, to catch players, showing either sparks of talent or strong performances.
At the end of the 20 matches, the Indian team should culminate into a unit that has been formed after a genuinely exhausting exercise, that has lasted for more than a year, after tapping various alternatives.
The team that goes to the West Indies for the World Cup then should be a team that has each player worth his salt. Then, it does not matter his age, his past or experience. It should be a player that excites the team management with his promise at the time.
Based on these thoughts, I believe there should not be too much scrutiny of the team selected for the tri-series in Sri Lanka. Perhaps that energy of ours could be preserved when the team for the World Cup is announced.
Dinesh Mongia, who played in the last World Cup, is back in the Indian team after a long absence. Whatever could be the stories floating around his selection, I look at it as maturity on the part of the selectors.
They have showed that although youth is an important consideration in their planning they are not going to be obsessed with it. This selection is on pure performance. Interestingly, though on English county performances.
Suddenly, county cricket performances have become more and more relevant for Indian cricket selections. We even have Sourav Ganguly and Zaheer Khan staking their claim for selection from England.
This also means that Indian players who do not play county cricket are somewhat at a disadvantage. Mongia clearly would not have been back in this Indian team if not for his contract with a certain county in England.
With India playing round the year and having international commitments now in June, July and August and with our domestic season finishing much before that in April, there are no match opportunities for fringe players to make a strong case for selection, unless they are influential enough to get a county contract. A situation that the BCCI could make note of.
So here we have Mongia's performances in England been rewarded, while Zaheer's have not. But it seems not for long, as Zaheer keeps sending these strong messages to the Indian selectors, through the only way you should, by outstanding performances.
Anil Kumble's unbelievable perseverance as a bowler has got him back in the reckoning for one-day cricket, a possibility that was almost ruled out two years back as focus had shifted to youth and energy in the field.
Though he is not picked in the team for Sri Lanka, you can quite clearly gauge that he is a strong candidate for the Indian team for the World Cup. By not selecting him in the team but keeping him well informed about their long term plans with him, the selectors have shown the virtue of communication. Importance of a dialogue between players and selectors can never be under-estimated.
Kumble today is not in the Indian team but he is not unhappy or hurt, for he has been motivated by the words passed on to him by the men in charge. This contact between players and selectors helps keep the harmony in the dressing room, so vital for winning performances.
Kumble has reached a stage in his career that he does not need one-day match practice, to excel if he has to, in the more important one-day matches later.
After 16 year of international cricket, Kumble is now predictably a good bowler and its just a matter of the team management visualizing him bowling the way he does against certain batting oppositions in given match conditions.
Needless to say, it is going to be a tough outing for India as they take on South Africa and Sri Lanka in testing weather conditions. Even after that 4-1 loss in the last one-day series in the West Indies, there is no denying the fact that India is still a very good one-day team. And unlike the West Indies, they would be hoping that this time, they return with some answers and not, more questions.