I have been meaning to start a thread on this issue for a while now.
While the Indian test team seems to be a nice blend of youth and experience and seems to be settling down to an extent, the Indian ODI side seems to be in the doldrums right now.
And I think the main reason for this is the fact that the players who are doing well in one area are not being very good in the other two. We don't have any great or even good fielders among our best batsmen or the best bowlers. And those who do seem to be good in the field are not setting the world on fire with their main skills, which is batting or bowling. And of course, most of our batsmen just cannot bowl...
The reason we are struggling so much is quite simple. Our best ODI side at the moment is a very very poor fielding side, very very poor in running between the wickets, very very poor in terms of athelticism and power in fielding (just watch them chase and throw the ball)... And our bowlers can't bat or field and our batsmen can't bowl or field. We just have too many holes right now which we need to plug somehow if we are to dream of any kind of success in ODIs. We are gonna get some good wins, sure, because our batting has a lot of class and our bowling has the talent to deliver the goods on some occassions but we will always be OUTPLAYED and OUTPLAYED badly every now and then because we are so bad in the areas that makes the little differences which when added up is what seperates the great and good sides from mediocre sides.....
Let us look at the options the Indian team has and then try and see if we cannot at least figure out a way to polish the holes, if we are not gonna be able to fix them...
Contenders: Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag.
We have a bit of a problem of plenty here... Sachin and Sourav are playing very very well, even though I do think Sourav seems to be struggling just a touch when he has to score very quickly. Especially when facing up to genuinely quick (140+) guys... The problem here is that, if we do play Uthappa and/or Gambhir, we are not only losing out on one or two of the best ODI players ever, but we are also losing out on their bowling abilities, because as far as I know, neither Gambhir or Uthappa bowl regularly even as part timers for their state sides... We have all seen enough of Sehwag and his frailities in the ODI game to discuss it again here. But perhaps, it is worth noting that inspite of his weight, he seemed to be a decent enough and a safe enough fielder and also perhaps he is the best bowler amongst our batsmen. Maybe there is a case for playing him as our no.6 in an Andrew Symonds type role and utilize his bowling more often. Maybe he will regain a bit of confidence if he gets to bat at a position where he has a licence to go out and attack...
Conclusion: I think, even though he is batting very well, the best option for India would be to drop Ganguly and go with either Gambhir or Uthappa at the top of the order to partner Sachin. I know Sachin has taken up the attacking role again at the top with gutso and he is doing very well, but I just don't think he seems to relish having to score quickly against some quick bowlers and nowadays, such news spreads like wildfree amongst all bowling attacks. Plus, we do need at least one opener who is younger so that he can learn from one of these champions and take up the baton as and when it is passed. And Ganguly's fielding and fitness is just another reason, even though Gambhir doesn't exactly strike one as a very convincingly good fielder either... It is more of a gut feeling than anything else, but perhaps India will be better served with a combination of Sachin and Uthappa at the top. I know Uthappa doesn't have a great technique and he was pretty much exposed in the Windies during the WC, but with so many flat tracks around, I think he is a guy who can get the ball rolling right at the top and give Sachin a bit of breathing space as well. Sachin's best overs are generally 8-15, even at his peak and I think that with today's trend of rungetting, it will be much better for India if we had that combination at the top. And of course, if Uthappa fails after a few attempts, we can get Gambhir in there.
It is the pivotal position in the batting order and it is no surprise that the best teams have great and settled #3s. Ponting for the Aussies, Richards for the 80s Windies and so on. India have used so many guys at this position and chopped and changed and reverted back so many times that it is not even funny anymore. Anyways, here are the contenders...
Contenders: Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik, Gambhir/Uthappa/Ganguly, Sehwag and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Dravid enjoys batting at 5. He may look a good fit for 3 GIVEN the way he bats at 5 but he seems to bat in a different way when batting at 3 and it is not always the best for the side. Yuvraj Singh has some problems with the balls outside his offstump and exposing him to the new ball is not the best idea, at least not yet. Dinesh Karthik opens in tests and in theory, should be a good candidate but like Dravid he tends to get boged down a bit in this position. Also, he has had some success coming in the later middle order and that should be considered as well. Any of the discarded openers could be used at 3, but again even they tend to get a little boged down coming in at 3. As weird as it seems, there is a world of difference between opening the batting and batting at 3, even in ODIs. That leaves us with Dhoni. Dhoni's best stats are in this position but then again, he is a keeper. Plus, we may need his big hitting towards the end...
At the end, I think it is better to use MSD at 3. He has good stats there, he can use the power plays and keep the momentum going or even build it from scratch in case of an early wicket. He will also enjoy the chance to get himself in before the spinners come on, against whom he can be murderous. IT might be difficult to bat at 3 and keep, but we have seen Gilchrist, Flower, Stewart etc. all open and keep and it should not so difficult at least in ODIs. Maybe on a really good bowling track, we can use Dravid at 3 but at all other times, I would rather see Dhoni at 3. Give the licence to Uthappa and Dhoni to attack and expect Tendulkar to shore up and also score quickly himself (if the pitch is so good)... This is perhaps the best top 3 I can see for India given the options we have....
Another rather pivotal position in the batting order.
Contenders: Yuvraj Singh, Rahul Dravid, Gambhir/Ganguly/Sehwag, Dinesh Karthik, Badrinath, Manoj Tiwary, Rohit Sharma
As we see, this is where the younger guys and guys from the A sides start coming into contention. Dravid has shown an inclination to bat at 4 whenever the side is in a bit of trouble, but I would rather see Yuvraj get this spot as a permanent thing. This gives him enough overs to face without having to face the threat of the new ball (if the openers and the #3 do their thing). In fact, I would like to see Yuvraj bat at 4 even if we lose two early wickets so that he can start accepting responsibility and get better in playing in those conditions as well. Karthik again seems better in the lower middle order and the new guys, while they can be tried out in certain series and in certain matches, I don't see any of them becoming the permanent #4 for India in ODIs anytime soon. The openers are pretty much ruled out for this spot.
Perhaps the easiest decision so far, Yuvraj.
Things starting to get easier with the batting order now..
Contenders: Rahul Dravid, Dinesh Karthik, Gambhir/Ganguly/Sehwag, Rohit Sharma, Badrinath, Manoj Tiwary
You need someone like Dravid to bat as higher up as possible and given that he doesn't enjoy batting in the top 3 as much nowadays and also given that the time is right to give Yuvraj the #4 slot and get the best out of him, it is obvious that Dravid has to keep this slot. The new guys again can be tried out in certain situations and matches, but it would be foolish to say any of these deserver to be #5 in the line-up. The openers are again out of the question. Karthik could be useful here, but he has to be batting below Dravid, IMHO.
Rahul Dravid, another easy one.
Another one of the most important positions in the batting order. Ideally you want a guy who can play the big shots and/or is good at rotating the strike and playing the calm finisher. India have tried to use Dhoni previously in this role, but it is obvious that he struggles to get singles straightaway and that sometimes adds up unnecesary pressure on his partner. Also, since I have him down at #3 already, it opens this spot up.
Contenders: Dinesh Karthik, Ganguly/Gambhir/Sehwag, Sharma, Tiwary, Badrinath
Ganguly lacks the running between the wickets and has almost never batted so low in his ODI career, so that rules him out. Gambhir doesn't seem to strike me as someone powerful which means it is not likely that he is going to clear the boundary riders at the death too much, so that rules him out. The new guys, if they come in, will probably bat at this position but their position is not exactly a guarantee and since we are talking about the best team India can put out on the park, I am not considering them here. That leaves us with Karthik and Sehwag. Karthik has been a bona fide lower middle order bat for most of his FC career and also, he has been used in this role only by India whenever he has played ODIs for them. And it is in this position that he has been reasonably successful as well.
With Sehwag, this could well be his best position, at least for the next year or so, till the big guns call a day. If the batsmen above him do their job, this could be the best stage for him. He is not a bad runner between the wickets inspite of how he may look, although he can get lazy, and I think batting at the end, either shepherding the tail or hitting out will suit him just fine at the moment. He is a confidence cricketer, IMHO and if he can get in a few good scores along with some good performances even with the ball from this position, it will help him grow in confidence and he will get better and better building upto the future, esp. after the big 3 decide to call it a day.
Both Karthik and Sehwag have good cases here, but I am going to go with Sehwag. With Dhoni moving up the order, we need some firepower at #6 and Sehwag is the right man to provide it, esp. since we will be playing some good bowling sides. His experience of facing upto the new ball will also come in handy in case there is a collapse at the top.
Not much is left now, with the top 6 being decided.
Contenders: Karthik, Irfan Pathan, Tiwary, Joginder Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Badrinath
Not sure if the new guys will get too many games but if they do, some of them may well have to bat at this position. But looking at the established ones, Karthik seems to have a solid case for himself to bat at this position. Also, now we get the all rounders coming in ( at least all rounders by Indian standards). Irfan Pathan is the best bet if he can get some kind of form going with the ball in the Twenty20 WC. Joginder Sharma will be pushing as well,but with him, his batting is more of a question mark than his bowling. But if India are not sure about either of these guys and I don't see too many other all rounder options looming, it is better to go in with the extra batter, in which case, I think Karthik should be the one to come in.
Pathan (subject to regaining semi-decent bowling form) would be the best option, but if we need to play 7 batters, it has to be Karthik.
Contenders: Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, Munaf Patel, Sreesanth, RP Singh, VRV Singh
We may need to play 3 seamers, esp. if Pathan isn't getting back his bowling form. Zaheer and RP seem to be sure picks of this lot and ideally I would like to see Sreesanth as the 3rd seamer. He can be just as erratic as AA, but he has his future ahead of him and be thought of to be likely to improve, in theory at least. VRV Singh deserves a decent go in ODIs, IMHO, he is nippy and while his lack of swing or seam movement hurts him in tests, in ODIs, he could be effective, at least in a run restricting role, if the plans are well directed. Notice that I am not even considering Ishant Sharma here...
Zaheer, RP and Sreesanth to be the 3 chosen ones, IMHO.
Contenders: Harbhajan Singh, Ramesh Powar, Yusuf Pathan, Piyush Chawla
Harbhajan's performance in the Twenty20 may or may not be so crucial. But Powar and Chawla seem to have settled down well as a spinning duo in ODIs. They will be hard to replace. Only some really good all round efforts from Yusuf Pathan will even get him a look in.
Chawla and Powar, easily.
So this is the side I end up with:
Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Irfan Pathan/Dinesh Karthik
As you can see, it is not exactly a great side but perhaps with Irfan finding some form, it could at least be reasonably balanced... Or if we do play the likes of Uthappa, Karthik and Yuvraj in the same side, at least our fielding will get slightly better. But I think this is the best India can do, excepting maybe trying out someone like Kaif at #3 as a permanent slot and seeing if Dhoni can adjust to opening... But all things considered, this, to me, looks like the best side India can put up. Thoughts?