England's ruthless selection policy should have India looking west
England's Twenty20 triumph disproves the notion that picking players on reputation is a recipe for success
Wednesday 19 May 2010 12.32 BST
Has India already seen the best of Yuvraj Singh? Photograph: Andres Leighton/AP
While English cricket taps its feet to Bruce Springsteen's Better Days and looks forward with optimism to an Ashes series and a 50-over World Cup, nearly half of the India squad that returned from the Caribbean with no tickertape parades to welcome them must contemplate show-cause notices for their part in a pub fracas.
For more than a decade, we've heard how English cricket could learn by looking east, to wristy strokeplay, wily spin and mastery of reverse swing. Times have changed. India and Pakistan, and maybe even Sri Lanka, could look at this English Twenty20 side to realise where they have gone wrong
Between them, the subcontinent's cricket powers won only seven of 17 matches in the West Indies. All three were hammered by Australia, though Pakistan came within an over of exacting revenge at the second time of asking. On no account could it be called a successful tournament, with the same old frailties popping up to haunt each side.
With the World Cup only nine months away, which way will each of the teams go? Pakistan have not reached the latter stages since 1999, while India did not survive the first round in 2007, leaving Sri Lanka to fly the Asian flag all the way to the final.
Pakistan have done something right by getting rid of some of the egos, including the "termite" called Shoaib Malik.
England's last World Cup campaign in the Caribbean is best remembered for pre-dawn pedalos and Battle of the Bottle headlines. This time, the Red Stripes and the El Dorados went hand-in-hand with terrific team spirit. With 2011 looming, the first thing to do is follow Andy Flower's example and be ruthless in squad selection. Yesterday's six-hitters are of no use tomorrow.
Picking players on reputation is always tempting, but it seldom works. Misbah-ul-Haq, for example, got Pakistan to within a big hit of winning the 2007 World Twenty20 final. But what has been his output over the past 12 months? Is it worth persisting with him when an exciting talent such as Hammad Azam waits backstage?
Isn't it time Sri Lankan cricket drew a line under the Sanath Jayasuriya era? The man's 40 and now has a political career to think of as well. He's still capable of the odd cameo, but when was his last innings of substance? Thank him for yeoman service and send him on his way.
For India, the decisions to be made are harder still. Yuvraj Singh is hardly in the same age bracket as Misbah or Jayasuriya, yet the feeling persists that we may already have seen the best of him. His waistline and lethargic movement in the field tell you exactly why Gary Kirsten felt compelled to have a rant and now is perhaps the best time for him to address the injuries that have plagued him in recent seasons.
England's Twenty20 campaign was notable for the manner in which they kept faith with what they saw as a winning combination. Paul Collingwood and Luke Wright bowled an over each, but, otherwise, there was implicit trust in the five men chosen to do the job.
Pakistan operated on similar lines, though their weak links, such as Mohammad Hafeez, were too easily targeted by eagle-eyed batsmen.
For India, the problem lies in finding five wicket-taking bowlers. You know there is a problem when an opening bowler, Praveen Kumar, bowls at a pace that's slower-ball speed for such as Dirk Nannes and Stuart Broad. Praveen is a clever swing bowler who knows Indian conditions well, but he'll never be better than first or second change.
If this tournament showed anything, it was the value of pacy new-ball operators. Where are India's? And who do Sri Lanka have, apart from Lasith Malinga? How do India's selectors explain their scattergun policy to pace selection? Dhawal Kulkarni was part of the squad that toured New Zealand last year. Dropped without playing a game. Abhimanyu Mithun, who enjoyed a wonderful Ranji Trophy season, was chosen for the home series against South Africa. Dropped after one game. So much for nurture.
On the batting side, the theme is misplaced expectation and a lack of patience. In some ways, Sachin Tendulkar was the worst thing to happen to Indian cricket. These days, every 17-year-old with a little talent is expected to emulate him. It nearly destroyed Ambati Rayudu's career. Only now, at the age of 24, is he finding his way again. Indian cricket should just accept there will never be another Tendulkar.
Had Ian Bell been Indian, he would have been on the scrap heap instead of playing an Ashes-winning innings at The Oval last summer. That a player takes time to find his feet has been forgotten. Suresh Raina still has issues against the short ball, but he's only 23. The way people talk about him and Rohit Sharma, you'd think they were Misbah's age and beyond redemption.
Rahul Dravid spent four seasons in domestic cricket before breaking into the national side. It took him another five years to establish himself as a world-class batsman. Now, we expect batsman of that quality to emerge in the time it takes to make a Pot Noodle.
England won the World Twenty20 because they were brave – they picked Michael Lumb and Craig Kieswetter ahead of more recognised names such as Matt Prior, and gave Eoin Morgan licence to express himself.
India could have backed the exuberant strokeplay of Manish Pandey or the uber-confidence of Virat Kohli. Instead, they went with the same options that had fallen so short in England a year earlier.
Most of all though, Collingwood's team showed there's just no substitute for sprightliness in the field. Broad may have dropped David Hussey in the final, but the catches he and Collingwood took epitomised a team at the top of their fielding game. India were similarly brilliant in 2007 and questions must be asked as to why so many of the same players have become such laggards in the field now.
Nothing, though, would have been as galling as the sight of Graeme Swann teasing and tormenting Australia's batsmen in the final.
Till that final-over meltdown in the semi-final, Saeed Ajmal bowled beautifully for Pakistan. Suraj Randiv showed glimpses of promise for a Murali-less Sri Lanka, while Harbhajan Singh was tidy [and wicketless] for India. But Swann was a class apart, flighting the ball, turning his quicker one and generally befuddling every batsman he came across.
For decades, a blond Australian apart, the subcontinent had a monopoly on spin talent. No longer. Asian batsmen will thrive on home surfaces, but unless the bowlers improve and are backed up by fielding that's not Laurel-and-Hardy quality, the 2011 World Cup could be a rerun of the 2006 Champions Trophy, when all three sides watched the foreign mob battle for glory.