The Champions Trophy could not come at a better time for the Indian team, on the back of spot-fixing and conflict of interest controversies, the focus can shift back on cricket on the field for the time being. The squad was selected with an eye towards the 2015 World Cup, and based on recent form – albeit from the IPL – the squad is almost unrecognizable from that which held aloft the World Cup only two years ago.
With the fresh faces in the squad, initially there was not much expectation of the Indians in this tournament – leaving out experienced campaigners such as Gambhir, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Zaheer, Harbahajan and of course, it will be the first international tournament in the post-Tendulkar ODI era.
On paper India’s top order and bowling will be their major concern in progressing to the knockout phase of the tournament – being grouped with strong opposition in South Africa, Pakistan, and world beaters on their day – West Indies. The return of Umesh Yadav, the rise of Bhuveneshwar Kumar, and the somewhat return to form of Ishant Sharma can really assist India in English conditions with two new balls if their plans are executed correctly. Dinesh Karthik returns to the squad on the back of stellar performances in domestic cricket and the IPL, and Shikhar Dhawan returns from injury – causing a bit of a conflict of who will make up the top order, with the middle order generally being stable with the likes of Kohli, Raina and Dhoni.
Leading into the opening game of the tournament, India can take confidence in the fact that they were able to chase down a sizeable total against Sri Lanka in their first warm up game, and then recover from 51/5 to post a score of over 300, as well as bowl out Australia for 65 in their second. The recurring issue in both games was the inability of the top order to contribute, and the middle order salvaging the situation.
Facing South Africa is never an easy task, but it has been made a bit easier for India with the withdrawals of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, and an injury cloud over Dale Steyn as well. If India’s bowlers can bowl with the same intensity as they did against Australia, backed up by solid batting, they should be able to get through the group stage rather comfortably.
Probable XI vs South Africa: Dhawan, R Sharma, Kohli, Karthik, Raina, MSD, Jadeja/Pathan, Ashwin, B Kumar, I Sharma, Yadav