India's selection meeting in Mumbai on Wednesday to pick the squad for the Asia Cup, which begins March 12 in Dhaka, promises to be a heady affair not least because of the poor form of certain players during an exhaustive tour of Australia. India have managed to stay alive in the CB Series following a spectacular chase of 321 inside 37 overs in Hobart – their first win in four attempts – but whether or not that influences the selectors remains to be seen.
India's selection committee – comprising Kris Srikkanth, Mohinder Amarnath, Narendra Hirwani, Surendra Bhave and Raja Venkat – may not be swayed by India's seven-wicket win over Sri Lanka in Hobart considering the poor form of certain players, overkill of cricket and injury concerns over key bowlers.
Apart from Virat Kohli (373 runs) and Gautam Gambhir (308), and to a lesser extent MS Dhoni (205), India's batsmen have struggled. Virender Sehwag has been woeful in the CB Series, with 65 runs from five innings at an average of 13. Most worrying was his inability to provide starts; the longest Sehwag batted was the first ball of the tenth over, and each of his dismissals owed to Sehwag's poor judgment rather than good deliveries. He slashed to third man twice, hit a return catch, got a leading edge to point and miscued to mid-on. Sachin Tendulkar, whose role in the ODI team has been questioned, has scratched around for 143 runs in seven matches with a best of 48. The senior pair is likely to be dropped, or 'rested' as the catchphrase is these days.
But while the senior players have copped the most flak, the younger crop has not fared much better. Suresh Raina, who was last year dropped from the Test team after a poor tour of England, appeared to be struggling to keep his place in the side until he reeled off an unbeaten 40 from 26 balls in the Hobart chase on Tuesday. The selectors may give him a rope, but a series tally of 182 runs from eight matches is not convincing enough. Raina has repeatedly struggled against the short deliveries, and this remains a worry for the future of the batting.
Rohit Sharma, who warmed the bench during the entire Test series, was ushered into the ODI team but managed just 79 runs in five matches. Raina's latest knock could keep Rohit out, with Ajinkya Rahane being recalled. The only other batsman the selectors may discuss is Robin Uthappa, who last played an ODI for India in July 2008. Uthappa is the third highest run-scorer in the ongoing Vijay Hazare Trophy - India's premier domestic 50-over competition - with 292 runs. Parthiv Patel is also set to be retained, though an average of 24.33 from 19 innings since June 2011 doesn't hint at much.
The other big issue confronting the selectors is that of the allrounder's slot. Ravindra Jadeja – bought by Chennai Super Kings for a whopping $2 million in this year's IPL auction – has been picked as the allrounder in all eight matches but has returned 101 runs at 16.83 and three wickets at 109 apiece.
In Jadeja's place, Yusuf Pathan is primed for a recall after recovering from a knee injury. His only game for India since a disappointing one-day series in the West Indies was a one-off Twenty20 international against England last October, but he marked his return to competitive cricket with a 78-ball 114 to power Baroda to a 52-run win over Saurashtra in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Considering Jadeja's poor form in Australia, the selectors are likely to turn to Yusuf.
India also have injury concerns, notably to pace bowlers Zaheer Khan and Vinay Kumar. Vinay took nine wickets at 32.11 before he suffered a calf strain, and Zaheer's fitness has been an issue all series and he returned to the side for India's final match after missing four games. He did not bowl his full quota, which shows that Zaheer is not 100 per cent fit.
Irfan Pathan did not play on Tuesday following a collision with Raina on Sunday, but should find himself on the way to Bangladesh after taking six wickets in four matches and playing two cameos with the bat.
Who then could be the replacements for Zaheer and Vinay? Bengal’s Ashok Dinda – who has played five ODIs for India - has put forth a strong case for selection after taking 37 wickets in the recent Ranji Trophy finishing as the leading wicket-taker in the Duleep Trophy with 22 as East Zone clinched their maiden title. Abhimanyu Mithun has not been convincing in domestic cricket, and the selectors are unlikely to revert to the injury prone Ashish Nehra and Munaf Patel.
There are also rumours that Harbhajan Singh, who was dropped from the team late last year, is to be discussed at the selection meeting. Harbhajan has taken just two wickets in five matches in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, for an average of 92.50, and there is little chance that the selectors will look at him as the second spinner. That place will probably remain with Rahul Sharma, who has played just once match in the CB Series.
Additionally, there is the issue of whether to take MS Dhoni to Bangladesh or give him a rest. Dhoni has played non-stop cricket and looks jaded himself, and it would not be a bad idea to give him some rest.