Thursday, December 4, 2014

Excluded quintet were crucial in India's 2011 World Cup victory

India announced their provisional 30-man squad for the 2015 Cricket World Cup earlier today. The headlines were generated by the exclusion of Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir and Harbhajan Singh. Plaudits have to be given to the selection committee for making their decisions on form rather than being held hostage to sentiment and emotion. Starting with the Champions Trophy success in 2013, the core of this team has delivered for India in the ODI arena. Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane have played numerous match winning innings in the past year and a half. To not reward such consistency with a place in the World Cup in the hope that the veterans get one last chance on the big stage would defy cricket logic.

The announcement did make me think of the 2011 World Cup, and I thought it fair to acknowledge the role that the excluded quintet had in India's triumph on home soil.

Virender Sehwag 
380 runs, Average 47.5, Strike Rate 122.58

In the first match of the World Cup, Sehwag hit a barnstorming 175 from 140 balls against Bangladesh. Sehwag didn't quite hit those heights again for the rest of the tournament, but his blistering starts often put the opposition on the back foot. In the tense semi final against arch-rivals Pakistan, Sehwag's crucial 25-ball 38 ensured India landed the first mental blow in a match where nerves were going to play a big part.

Harbhajan Singh
9 wickets, Average 43.33, Economy 4.48

Compared to other bowlers, Harbhajan didn't have a standout tournament, averaging just a wicket a match. Still, the off spinner's economy rate of 4.48 on flat pitches in a batsman-friendly tournament brought India an element of control in the middle overs. His most decisive performance was in the semis against Pakistan, where his dismissals of Umar Akmal and Shahid Afridi effectively sealed the match in India's favour.

Gautam Gambhir
393 runs, Average 43.66, Strike Rate 85.06

Gambhir was the 6th highest run-getter in the tournament. The southpaw's performance was marked by consistent excellence at number three after the explosive starts provided by Sehwag. Batting alongside Sachin in the middle overs Gambhir kept India ticking at a flair clip, mixing singles with trademark big hits against spinners. Saving his best for last, his brilliant 97 in the final against Sri Lanka was the foundation for India's successful chase to win the cup.

Zaheer Khan
21 wickets, Average 16.66, Economy 4.45

If it wasn't the age of the batsman, Zaheer would probably have been awarded the man of the tournament. In a bowling attack that was being torn apart by opposition batsmen, Zaheer's tournament-leading haul of 21 was essential in India's victory. Zaheer swung the new ball at will, while keeping a tight lid on explosive opening batsmen. His canny mixing of pace and intelligent yorkers made Zaheer difficult to get away in the slog overs, affording India the leeway of chasing smaller targets. He also avenged the demons of his 2003 World Cup final, by starting the final with three consecutive maidens to steady Team India's nerves.

Yuvraj Singh
362 runs, Average 90.50, Strike Rate 86.19
15 wickets, Average 19.40, Economy 4.09

The ultimate all-round performance that is unlikely to be topped in a World Cup. Yuvraj was India's hero and his impact in the tournament is the stuff of legend. Most cricketers would be happy to be amongst the top ten run-getters or wicket-takers at the end of a tournament. The Yuvraj of 2011 was a different beast. He ended up as the tournament's 8th highest run getter while also finishing 6th in the charts for most wickets. Breaking partnerships with his crafty left arm spin and accelerating India's innings towards the end, Yuvraj was always in the thick of things for India. As such, it was deserving that he was at the other end when Dhoni hit the six that won India the cup.

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