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India vs Australia: Last few pieces of a jigsaw

Can Binny take the all-rounder’s spot, will it be Rohit or Ajinkya at the top and who’ll be the pacers.

Rohit Sharma, India vs Australia, Australia vs India, India in Australia, Cricket Do India stick with Rohit Sharma, fresh from his epochal 264 or go with Ajinkya Rahane for the opener’s slot? (Source: File)

Imagine you’re at a nets session with all your mates. You’ve have had a good hit. Even the quickest bowler on view has been struck a few meaty blows. You’ve even bowled a few good deliveries, and gotten the better of the most highly-rated batsmen in the mix. You are feeling good. You are feeling great. Then your father walks in. Not just that, he starts talking to your coach.

It’s awkward. To the extent that you pretend like he’s not there. You act coy. Then the coach comes forward to have an exclusive word with you. And the facade’s gone. It’s been lifted. You’re on the spot.

Unfortunately, Stuart Binny had to undergo a similar contretemps on Saturday. That too during a training session with the Indian team on the eve of their opening game in a crucial tournament at the MCG. Father Roger, a former World Cup winner himself and one of the two selectors on tour, had just walked in along with colleague Vikram Rathour. And after a lengthy discussion with Virat Kohli, the duo had settled in for an equally extensive, if not a more animated, chat with coach Duncan Fletcher.

Just then Binny slipped a delivery wide down leg-side, after having bowled a long-hop to Ambati Rayudu. As he walked back to his mark, Fletcher was upon him with an arm over his shoulder. Binny was taken to the side of the net for an impromptu one-on-one, where it seemed the veteran coach was asking the medium-pacer to concentrate on his accuracy.

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At the opposite end stood skipper MS Dhoni, watching on, though not with any overt curiosity. The next few deliveries Binny bowled were on target, making Rayudu stretch his front-foot and defend or drive at the ball. Fletcher nodded his approval. The senior Binny had by then started to move away from the nets area, which is situated strangely at a basement level and thus giving it a feel of a crocodile bank, especially with all the Indian fans peering over the rails to catch a glimpse of the action below them.

In a way, Binny’s short foray as an international cricketer has all been about winning trust. Winning the trust of his captain, his coach, of his peers, and at many levels himself. The seaming all-rounder has been the elusive Kohinoor diamond of Indian cricket. For two decades, India possessed one of the highest and rarest quality in Kapil Dev. He was their pride and the world’s envy. Then they lost him, and have ever since been hanging on desperately, and mostly in vain, for a replacement.

Then Binny came along. Slower in pace, arguably with lesser skill with the ball, a hard-hitter but clearly the best among his breed presently in the country, a fact that even Dhoni alluded to and accepted in the pre-match press conference.

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“Irrespective of all the debate, the best seaming all-rounder of India has been picked in the side. So we are hoping that he will stand up and take the responsibility,” he said.

Speaking of debate, there has been plenty of it surrounding his selection for the World Cup squad. Most of it has revolved around Dhoni’s apparent lack of trust in medium-paced all-rounders. Remember Abhishek Nayar? You just have to look at Binny’s ODI debut for any justification. He was given one over, the 22nd of the New Zealand innings, in that game at Hamilton. It was his first in international cricket. He went for eight. Binny even beat Ross Taylor with his second delivery, an off-cutter that rose off the pitch and hit the high-profile right-hander on the glove. Then he bowled him a wide half-volley that was despatched for four. The Kiwis still needed 174 to get off the next 28 overs. But Dhoni had seen enough. Binny didn’t bowl again.

On Saturday though, Dhoni did reveal that he would look forward to utilizing the burly Karnataka all-rounder in conditions like Perth-where India will play the last-leg of this tour-and in New Zealand, where he will be expected to give him six to eight overs. But how they fit him into the equation will be one of the many boxes that Dhoni and India will look to tick off during the tri-series leading up to the World Cup. An impressive showing from Binny over the next two weeks will not only enhance his credentials, it will also rid India of a major headache, their fifth bowling option, which has gone for plenty ever since the bowlers-being-led-to-slaughter law of only four fielders outside the circle came into being.

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Binny apart, the world champions also have the other vexing issue at the top of the order. Do they stick with Rohit Sharma, fresh from his epochal 264? Or do they go with the in-form Ajinkya Rahane who’s won over the whole of Australia, even if many still struggle to get the pronunciation of his name spot-on (they go from Rehane to Rahani)? For now, Shikhar Dhawan seems to have nailed his spot in.

For the record, since the ODI series in England, Dhawan averages 60.22 in 10 innings, Rahane 39.54 in 11 while Rohit has played only three, including his second ODI double-hundred, owing to a finger injury he suffered in Cardiff. But Rahane did score a crucial century in Birmingham while the other two have got most of their runs on home soil. The tri-series then could well be an audition for all three to cement their spots at the top of the order.

Pace bowling options 

It will be the same for the fast bowlers. Only three will be certainties for the World Cup opener against Pakistan in Adelaide. But with Ishant Sharma yet to recover from the injury that kept him out of the fourth Test, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami will get a shot at retaining their spots when the tournament kicks off. Mohit Sharma and Dhawal Kulkarni will be in the frame too as they try to outdo each other to be the first-choice replacement if any of the four pacers in the World Cup squad were to break down.

Where does that leave Binny? Does he fit in as the fourth seamer, or can he bowl well enough to allow India to go in with two spinners and him as the all-rounder?

The tri-series has been billed as a major chance for the Indians to get acclimatized with the wickets as well as the big boundaries before they commence their World Cup defence. But it will also see the coming together of India’s first XI going into the big event. And it’s not just Binny who’ll be seeking a nod from the captain and coach.

IND VS AUS, LIVE ON STAR SPORTS 1,3: 8.00 AM

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Ravi needed a break, watching games can be draining: Dhoni

EXPRESS NEWS SERVICE

MELBOURNE: On the eve of India’s first game in the ODI tri-series, skipper MS Dhoni revealed that he had no idea about when Ravi Shastri, the team director, would join the team from his unanticipated sabbatical he’s taken from the tour. Shastri had left for India at the conclusion of the Test series, which India lost 0-2.

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He’s since been conspicuously absent from the team’s activities even as they’ve trained on three straight days leading up to their clash against Australia on Sunday.
“He will come back in a few days. I don’t know when exactly he’s coming. But that’s something that we keep monitoring,” said Dhoni.
Incidentally, Shastri, who as director of cricket is in-charge of all the cricketing decisions within the Indian team management, had joined the visitors a tad late, missing the first few days of the Australian summer. But he was then around for almost every one of the team’s practice sessions, being part of huddles and at times even taking individual players to the nets —Karn Sharma and KL Rahul among those —for one-on-one sessions with him.
According to Dhoni, the stress of sitting out and watching games could be draining as well. And that it was important for everyone to get a break. “He only had a few days off and he wanted to go. And we’re alright with it. A three-four day gap in a long tour like this I think is important for everyone. Especially for those who sit outside. They are sitting and watching games, and it can be draining. It’s good that he got some time off,” said the Indian captain.
As of now Shastri is slated to miss the first two matches of India’s tri-series campaign with the world champions scheduled to play two ODIs in three days — Australia at MCG on Sunday and England at the Gabba on Tuesday.

First published on: 18-01-2015 at 01:45:28 am
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