The preparatory process to defend the World Cup in 2015 should begin early and in right earnest. – Sachin Tendulkar in his retirement statement
India’s victorious 2011 World Cup campaign was the culmination of a three-year plan that was set by then coach Gary Kirsten when he took over the side in 2008. In an editorial for the Hindu after India won the final, he wrote that "We set our goals as a team way back in October 2008. We wanted to become the number one ranked Test team in the world and win the World Cup". Having concrete goals and a plan to achieve them gave the team both an objective and a means of measuring their performance. There could be no excuses.
It is one thing to groom a side for home conditions, where even players new to international cricket would have had experience playing in domestic cricket. It is quite another altogether to take untested players to Australia and expect them to cope with the pace and bounce under the intense pressure of a World Cup at the first time of asking.
The 2015 World Cup in Australia is now little more than two years away. Given an Indian team in flux combined with the challenges posed by playing in Australia, it is already too late for “early”, but perhaps still not too late for a process to be put in place with “right earnest”.
The list of players that India will need to replace (or potentially replace) is a long one. Of the 11 players to feature in that final in Mumbai, Tendulkar has retired, while Munaf Patel and S Sreesanth have fallen far out of favour. Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag are unlikely to still be around in three years, while Gautam Gambhir’s form has been patchy and Yuvraj Singh will be 34 and his health and fitness are still a question. That could leave just MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina from the World Cup winning XI. So finding replacements is not just a choice, it is a necessity.
MS Dhoni has said repeatedly that he wants a squad where everyone has played 60 or 70 ODIs. But with only two years to go and India playing about 25 ODIs a year, that is now not an option. So India will have to settle for taking players inexperienced at the highest level to Australia but they can still ensure that players gain exposure to the conditions through strategic ‘A’ tours. Of course, first the BCCI needs to identify the next 10 or 15 players who they think can step into the breach, and so far there has been no sign of that. Here is a list of players, some already part of the conversation, that Firstpost thinks deserve a chance to prove themselves at the highest level in limited-overs cricket:
Ajinkya Rahane (top order)
Rahane has been in the squad for over a year but his opportunities to play have been limited, which must be frustrating for the Mumbai batsman. He has a much better record in the longer format in domestic cricket, but has the potential to play the big innings even in the limited-overs format. Made 91 against England in England last year and had an outstanding 2012 IPL, which included a century for Rajasthan against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Deserves an extended run to cement a place in the side.
Mandeep Singh (top order)
After topping the run charts in last season’s Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy – he made 268 runs from nine games at a strike-rate of 127.61 – Mandeep had a breakout 2012 IPL for Kings XI Punjab. Still only 21, Mandeep has already shown he can bat intelligently and score freely without taking too many risks. Has already shown composure well beyond his years and would add depth to India’s opening positions.
Ravi Teja (opener)
The Hyderabad opening batsman was a regular selection for India’s Under-19 squad and has been a consistent performer for Hyderabad in the Ranji Trophy. He was the second leading-scorer in the Vijay Hazare tournament last year, scoring 361 runs at an average of 72.20 and a strike-rate of 86.15. Overall, he averages 43.69 from 35 List A games and also bowls a bit of legspin. At 25, he is entering the prime period of his career and should at least be given a chance to go on an A tour.
Suryakumar Yadav (middle order)
Yadav loves to play the big shots but does so successfully more often than not. He has a first-class strike-rate of 85.86 AND an average of 57.11. His topscore of 200, made against Orissa last season, took just 232 balls with and contained 28 fours and a six. Just 22, Yadav has the potential to be a destructive middle-order player in the mould of Kevin Pietersen, something India currently lacks.
Manoj Tiwary (middle order)
Tiwary has been given the run-around by the selectors for too long. They need to decide if he can do the job for them and keep him in the side, or move beyond him and consider other alternatives. Based on talent and ability though, he should be in the playing XI when he is fit.
Rohit Sharma (middle order)
Rohit is on the verge of turning into India’s Mark Ramprakash. There is no doubting his talent but so far he has failed to make the most of it on the international stage. This is his chance to seize his spot in the side and make it his own. If he doesn’t deliver, it will be time to look elsewhere.
Ambati Rayudu (middle order)
Rayudu has been a consistent performer in domestic cricket and for Mumbai Indians in the IPL. Has the ability to pace his innings and play the finisher at the death. After the 2011 IPL, his teammate Harbhajan Singh called him a "a special talent" and said he could see Rayudu playing for India. Can also keep wickets so could be a useful back-up for Dhoni down under.
Ravindra Jadeja (allrounder)
Initially identified for the 2011 World Cup, Jadeja was dropped after a string of poor performances but is now back in the frame thanks to twin triple-centuries in Ranji Trophy this year. His ability as an allrounder and his brilliance in the field are advantages that would stand India in good stead in Australia, but he still needs to prove he can make important runs lower down the order outside the subcontinent.
Bhuvaneshwar Kumar (allrounder)
The 22-year old from Uttar Pradesh was a surprise selection of the series against Pakistan but it was due reward for his performances in domestic cricket and List A tours. He has a healthy average of 26.02 and a strike rate of 56.5, and has eight five-wicket hauls from just 46 matches. Also averages 30.29 with the bat. If he performs well against Pakistan, could well get an extended run in the side.
Ashok Dinda (fast bowler)
Injuries to Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron, plus Zaheer’s lack of form, has catapulted Dinda into the XI. Has a decent strike-rate of 57.3 in first-class cricket and 33.7 in List A cricket. Assuming Yadav is fit and Ishant Sharma can find his form, Dinda would be a useful third seamer, especially in helpful conditions in Australia.
Shami Ahmed (fast bowler)
Another 22-year old. Ahmed has played only 15 matches for Bengal but has already impressed over that span. On mostly unhelpful wickets, his strike-rate of 49 is exceptional and he already has two ten-wicket hauls. In List A games, his strike-rate drops to just 24.9, or one wicket every four overs. Has two five-wicket hauls from 13 matches.
Parvinder Awana (fast bowler)
Awana had a rough introduction to international cricket, giving up 71 runs from six overs in two T20 games against England and failing to pick up a wicket. But he has the ability to bowl over 140 kph and should be able to extract bounce in Australia that could make life uncomfortable for opposing batsmen.
If you want to go younger still, there are currently three under-19 cricketers worth a look. Unmukt Chand has impressed all with his calm, composed batting; left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh has the backing of former Australia captain Ian Chappell, who said Harmeet is ready to play for India; and allrounder Baba Aparajith, who has been tu