Life couldn't have been rosier for some players after the Indian team for the World Cup was announced Tuesday afternoon; for some, life's a bitch right now. But if I have to take a philosophical pitch, is it ever different in human affairs in any aspect?
There are at least three players who I consider darned unlucky not to make the squad of 15--and none of them responds to the call of Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, or Harbhajan Singh, whose candidatures had suddenly become a cause celebre, so to speak.
However, these three stalwarts, so integral to the 2011 World cup win, would be the first to admit that they were never really in the running. They were not even in the list of 30 probables named by the selectors some weeks back. If their names still popped up in news and drawing rooms discussions, it was largely for reasons of nostalgia.
Of the three, Harbhajan had very few backers, neither has his recent form been inspiring. Support for Yuvraj and Sehwag picked up to an extent because of a surge of big scores in the Ranji Trophy in the past couple of weeks leading up to the selection. But frankly, if either of them were in the squad, it would have been a quirk.
Sehwag's genius is undoubted. I am of the firm belief that he has been India's biggest matchwinner of the last 15 years, but essentially in Tests. By contrast, his ODI record is modest.
On the other hand, Yuvraj could not quite make a go of his Test career, but was a sensational match-winner in limited overs cricket. His heroics in the World T20 in 2007 and the 2011 World Cup win are now the stuff of lore.
Being selected for this World Cup would have given a dramatic and romantic dimension to his career, but that's not how reality pans out. Yuvraj himself will agree that he had just not done enough to win back the faith of the selectors.
The unlucky players according to me are Murali Vijay, Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey. I don't know how the discussions or the voting pattern went in the selection committee meeting, but if these names were not debated at some length I would be very, very surprised.
Uthappa and Pandey have been outstanding performers in domestic cricket in the past couple of seasons--and across formats. Where the ODI format is concerned, they looked to fit in terrifically: both have the ability to score at very fast clip, with big shots in their arsenal as well as being superb runners between wickets.
There are other virtues too. Uthappa has decent (for this format) wicket-keeping skills which meant he could have been a back-up to MS Dhoni. "The unlucky players according to me are Murali Vijay, Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey"Pandey is a brilliant fielder square of the wicket and in the slips as also a handy seam-up change bowler.
Where Murali Vijay is concerned, his current form has been so impressive that he would have been difficult to ignore. If the tours of England and Australia are taken together, he has been India's stand-out batsman; even more than Virat Kohli perhaps.
It will be argued that Vijay is essentially a Test batsman, but that is just typecasting. Simply because he has performed so well in the five-day format doesn't necessarily mean that he would be miscast in limited overs cricket. Remember Rahul Dravid, who was considered a non-starter in ODIs and went on to score more than 10,000 runs?
It was his form in IPL T20 cricket which had pitchforked Vijay into national contention some seasons back. Some players have used the limited overs route to win Test places and be successful (Warner, Jadeja for e.g.); Vijay looked good to go the other route successfully.
On current form, and the fact that India would need solidity at the top of the order in Australian/New Zealand, Vijay could have been an asset. He must consider himself desperately unlucky.
Age Is Not A Factor
But the ill-fortune of these three doesn't mean Axar Patel and Stuart Binny, who made it to the squad, are underserving. In fact, I think the most vulnerable players were Shikhar Dhawan and Amabati Rayudu.
The core of the team--consisting of 12-13 players--was more or less secure and there was very little to choose between many of the other contenders, especially in the batting where the five batsmen--Rohit, Kohli, Raina, Rahane and Dhoni--seem dislodgable in this format.
With frontline batsmen and bowlers already identified, what probably worked in favour of Patel and Binny is that they bring greater balance and depth to the squad. Both are bowling all-rounders, but of different types, which gives the captain greater options in choosing his playing eleven.
Patel provides cover for the more experienced Ravindra Jadeja still recovering from injury, while Binny's late swing and medium-pace could be of value in New Zealand. Both are also fine fielders.
Neither has great experience at the international, level but that is not necessarily a disadvantage. For instance, Viv Richards became a star of the 1975 World Cup when he was barely 23, Steve Waugh was only 21 when Australia won in 1987, Inzamam 21 in Pakistan's win in 1991-92. "What probably worked in favour of Patel and Binny is that they bring greater balance and depth to the squad."Why, Kapil Dev was just 24 when India turned the World upside down in 1983!
By the same token, there are enough examples of senior pros being match-winners in World Cup tournaments too: Clive Lloyd, Adam Gilchrist, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Matt Hayden to name just a few.
Age, therefore, is neither a great advantage nor an impediment. What is of the crux is that players and teams--however raw or experienced--play to potential over a period of time to win. Sustenance of form, fitness and ambition over six weeks will be crucial for all teams.
All told, Dhoni has a fine squad under him--perhaps just the players he wanted. He had dropped a clanger before the year-end by announcing his retirement from Tests to focus on the World Cup.
The brouhaha over his retirement and the team selection is over. Now comes the real test. Only the West Indies and Australia have been able to retain the most coveted title in this sport. Dhoni--and Team India--have the world to play for. Once again!