They served Indian cricket wonderfully over the past so many years and contributed to India’s 2011 World Cup conquest but, on Thursday, the national selection committee cast emotions aside and virtually drew the curtain down on the ODI careers of six men – Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Gautam Gambhir.
By leaving the six out of the list of 30 probablesfor the 2015 ICC World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the Sandeep Patil-led committee has indicated that it is looking at fielding a young squad rather than be swayed by the ODI records that these six cricketers have accumulated over the past decade and a half.
Of course, the numbers are alluring. Yuvraj (8237 runs), Sehwag (7995) and Gambhir (5238) are among India’s ten most prolific ODI batsmen while Zaheer (269 wickets), Harbhajan (255) and Nehra (155) are among the team’s ten most successful ODI bowlers. Yuvraj has also got 110 wickets in his glittering career.
Yet, the signals were there for all to see since none of these players figured in any of India’s 24 ODIs this year and it would have been a huge punt to have any of them in the World Cup mix. Had they picked any of the six among the probables, the selectors would have been hard pressed to explain their decision.
By treating them all with the same yardstick, the selectors have shown that they can be hard-nosed and professional. Had they selected any of the six 2011 heroes, they would have left themselves a tough task when would sit down to choose the squad. They will have to choose a balanced squad of 15 so that India can stay in the frame until the end of March 2015.
Clearly, the selectors expect Suresh Raina to fill the breach caused by the exit of the 2011 World Cup Player of the Tournament, Yuvraj, as a batting allrounder. Raina has only 31 wickets with his offspin but the 28-year-old has been an important part of skipper MS Dhoni’s ammunition in stifling the flow of runs.
Similarly, the left-handed Shikhar Dhawan has stuck a stable opening partnership with either Rohit Sharma or Ajinkya Rahane, effectively shutting the door on his Delhi seniors Sehwag and Gambhir who played no mean role for India as an attacking combination at the start of the innings.
The selectors may have been tempted to look at left-arm bowlers Zaheer or Nehra’s experience but they may end up plumping for the youthful exuberance and the smart craft of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami and the pace of Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma.
For all that, this will not be the appropriate moment to write a farewell post for the six wonderful cricketers, who have both thrilled and frustrated, entertained and disappointed, fans in the past. That can wait until they make their individual decisions. For, cricket, as indeed, life, goes on and all sport – and sportspersons – have a funny way of getting back at those who stick their necks out with predictions
But even a cursory look at the 30 probables for the 2015 World Cup is enough to tell fans that they are most unlikely to be able to cheer Sehwag, Yuvraj, Zaheer, Harbhajan, Nehra and Gautam Gambhir at an ODI ground again. Not unless the selectors do a U-turn sometime in the future.