Five wise men entered a room on 6 January, and emerged 20 minutes later, relegating all news—even the news that Sunanda Pushkar hadn’t committed suicide but was murdered— on TV to a distant chatter. Almost immediately, Facebook status updates began to resemble each other. And a new topic began to trend on Twitter. Because as Sanjay Patel entered a press conference, on the fluttering sheet of paper that he held in his hand was the collective wisdom of the five wise men: India’s squad for the 2015 Cricket World Cup.
Patel, secretary, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), announced the squad, took a few questions, and was out of the press conference in under 15 minutes, but the news was discussed threadbare on TV for the rest of the night. This, after all, is the reason that the BCCI exists in India—to come up every four years with a squad for the World Cup. Everything else in the interim, from Team A tours and domestic matches to international cricket across formats, is a trial run to find the best possible combination for that distant tournament. It matters little that India’s Test team is currently getting a pasting in Australia, or that the last time India toured Australia and New Zealand for a World Cup, back in 1994 admittedly, the team couldn’t even make it past the first round. Now everyone is unanimous that this squad will lift the World Cup. The squad has one wicketkeeper-batsman; six specialist batsmen, one of whom can also keep wickets if the need arises; one specialist spinner; four seam bowlers; and three all-rounders, two of whom bowl left-arm spin and one medium-pace. Among them, only MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Ravichandran Ashwin have played in a World Cup. Although the team is relatively young, the average age of the team being 27, the squad has experience—all of them combined having played 1,242 matches.
Even though every cricket pundit claimed the selection was along expected lines, the announcement was not without its drama. The most glaring being the omission of Yuvraj Singh, the hero of the tournament’s last edition, who battled cancer and loss of form to score three centuries in three consecutive domestic matches just days before the selectors sat to decide the squad. Considering he wasn’t even shortlisted in the list of 30 World Cup probable players a few months ago, his return, if he had been picked, would have been dramatic. But the selectors chose to ignore him. The other notable player overlooked is Murali Vijay, who started off as a specialist in Twenty20s and ODIs, and is currently performing exceptionally well as a Test batsman in Australia. Even the long-forgotten, now bespectacled ‘Nawab of Najafgarh’, Virender Sehwag, seemed to have created some stir, scoring two centuries in two consecutive domestic matches days before the squad was announced. The only odd selection seems to be that of Stuart Binny, a bits and pieces bowler, who has done precious little to justify an inclusion, and, more importantly, captain MS Dhoni seems to repose little faith in him. Of the six ODI matches he has played so far, Dhoni has never used him to complete his quota of 10 overs. He has a highest score of 25 not out, and a total of nine wickets. There was some talk, when Stuart’s father and one of the selectors Roger Binny didn’t arrive in time for the meeting, that he was recusing himself from the proceedings.
But this is the BCCI, don’t forget, where ‘conflict of interest’ is but a flippant phrase. It turned out Roger Binny was simply on a delayed flight to Mumbai. And the four wise men were eventually joined by their fifth.