File photo of Rohit Sharma, Amit Mishra and Virat Kohli during an ODI. (AFP)
Amit Mishra is not a bad performer, but the musical chairs between him and Piyush Chawla makes one believe these are the only two India are left with when it comes to picking a legspinner for the national side. It's hard to see Mishra getting a game in the Champions Trophy in England, but going back and forth between him and Chawla puts a mirror in front of India's declining spin legacy.
The heartening aspect of the 15-man squad picked on Saturday, however, is the presence of youngsters, even though it came at the expense of the experienced Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh. Though the BCCI gave no explanation to keep Yuvraj and Gambhir out, the focus quite clearly is on grooming youngsters for the 2015 World Cup.
The derelict spin nursery
Offspinner R Ashwin has established himself as India's number one spinner after Harbhajan Singh failed to pick himself up, which kept him out of the CT probables. Other than Mishra, Ashwin has Ravindra Jadeja as assistant spinner in England, but to call him a specialist will be going a bit too far. Bowling on tailor-made home tracks is one thing and replicating that abroad another. Moreover, whenever Jadeja fails as a bowler, he is called a batsman and whenever he fails as a batsman, he is called a bowler. So it's best to hold judgement on him as a spinner, batsman or allrounder until he proves himself on foreign soil.
Mishra isn't doing bad in the IPL; in fact, he is joint third top wicket-taker so far with 16 wickets in 10 matches at an average of 14.81. He has also impressed with his economy rate of 6.40 in a format designed for big hitters. But for a person who made his ODI debut way back in 2003, he has played just 15 games in 10 years, taking 19 wickets at an average of 30.26. He was in the squad for the home series against Pakistan but didn't get a game, which means his last ODI was two years ago on the West Indies tour in 2011. But this time he is in the squad based on performance, which should always be the criteria for selection. But what his inclusion also highlights is that there are not much legspin options to chose from the domestic circuit.
Of the 15 players selected to play the Champions Trophy, 13 are in their 20s, which clearly suggests BCCI's focus on grooming youngsters for the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
While the change seems refreshing, it will be the first time in years that India's top five will be without Sehwag, Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh. And considering the English conditions, it will be a test of character for the likes of Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay, who will open, and Rohit Sharma, who has struggled to cement a place in the middle order.
MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina will thus have bigger responsibility to support the batting that stands on young legs.
The bowling too will witness a sea change with no Zaheer Khan to guide a young brigade. He still isn't match-fit and is yet to make an appearance for RCB in IPL 6.
Return of Umesh Yadav is a promising sign for India's Test tour of South Africa, and Bhuvneshwar getting exposure of the English conditions augurs well for his flourishing international career.
Vinay has grabbed his seat in the bus after proving to be the leading bowler for RCB in IPL 6. His control, variation and ability to hold nerves in the death overs have won RCB many games this season. That's what got him the nod to make a comeback in national colours.
Ishant Sharma has been retained for consistently bowling well for Sunrisers Hyderabad but will have to reproduce that for the national side to stay in contention for the South Africa tour. Irfan Pathan is lucky to stay in the squad ahead of Shami Ahmed. He has had an average IPL for Delhi Daredevils but got his name ticked for his allround skills.
It may not be the end of the road for Gambhir or curtains for Yuvraj, Sehwag and Harbhajan; but the BCCI has made its focus on youngsters very evident. The need of the hour, though, also is to replenish our spin-bowling resources.
Squad: MS Dhoni (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik, Murali Vijay, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Irfan Pathan, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra, Vinay Kumar