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For long, some of us have been hoping that India creates a pool of 20-25 players from which the national team can be chosen, from which any selection of eleven could play to approximately the same level. I know it doesnít always work that way, Ronaldo would weaken any team by his absence, but good teams hope to get there. I believe that in one-day cricket, India are well on course. The team that beat Pakistan so easily in Dhaka was without Tendulkar, Harbhajan, Sreesanth, Zaheer Khan and RP Singh, five names who would make a first eleven on most days.
So here is the list that excites me greatly: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Robin Uthappa, S Badrinath, Yusuf Pathan, Piyush Chawla, Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra, Irfan Pathan, Ishant Sharma, RP Singh, Sreesanth, Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan, MS Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel. To this list, add test cricket stalwarts Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly and you have as fine a batch of 25 players as any country could hope for.
The first thing that strikes you is how young the one-day side is. Even if you take some of the ages with the necessary pinch of salt, it is still a collection that one can look ahead with. Of those that played that game against Pakistan, only Sehwag had made his debut in the decade of the nineties, a mere two years after Harbhajan Singh had first appeared, but a full decade after Tendulkar, who must necessarily be looked at differently while discussing longevity.
Happily, there is competition for every spot and that means players will have to be on their toes; a quality that Indian cricket has not always been blessed with. Piyush Chawla is making the most of Harbhajanís absence and Sehwag and Gambhir could raise questions on how much Tendulkar will be missed. At the moment though, this is an excellent fair-weather batting side and on tracks responsive to quality seam and swing bowling, the top order still needs to prove it can do without Tendulkar.
And they can field. Except for RP Singh, Praveen Kumar and Zaheer Khan, you really donít need to hide anyone and for the first time, you get the feeling that maybe young Indian players are getting contemporary. Itís a great time though to raise the bar and make this an intimidating fielding side. The bar doesnít have to be raised by too much but as high jumpers and pole vaulters will tell you it is the last few centimeters that actually make the difference. The key will be attitude and that is the one variable we can look at with great curiosity. Too many players in this side have had slumps that could be attributed to attitude. This is where Gary Kirstenís real test will come. These boys can play but can they now stretch ambition and show they have what it takes to reach there.
I wish the BCCI takes this aspect a bit more seriously. With Harbhajan, Sreesanth and Praveen Kumar, in recent times, they have players who have struggled to cope with the position they find themselves in. And they are by no means the only three. It may not earn anyone any money but it is no less crucial to the strength of Indian cricket that young men learn to cope. To possess aggression but to find the moment to release it is a great, and therefore, elusive quality.
I like one other aspect of this side. There is far greater flexibility, there are people who can play in different positions and I believe the Pathan brothers are representative of this. Yusuf can bat anywhere and bowls off-spin, Irfan is ideal in the lower middle order and, if he canít lay his hands on the new ball, in the middle and end overs. Now if Yusuf Pathan can bowl a bit more and Chawla can bat a bit more, the side will have the perfect balance to it, except for just one slot. A top order batsman who can bowl seam-up. Till that man is sighted, this team will remain far more formidable in Indian conditions than in conditions that favour quicker bowling.
I will be very disappointed, given that World Cup 2011 is on the sub-continent, if this squad of cricketers doesnít make India favourites to win it, recent performances of forecasters and fortune tellers notwithstanding.