A brand new year, new faces, new hopes
Indian selection committee under Sandeep Patil, has retained the core of the young Indian squad that has done well in recent times. They have also thrown a few surprises, by including strong domestic circuit performers in Ishwar Pandey and Stuart Binny and bringing back fit-again pacer Varun Aaron.
The New Year brings new hopes, new challenges, new faces and new aspirations. 2013 was a largely successful year for the Indian cricket team having won 22 ODIs of the 34 ODIs, with just 10 losses. In Tests, India won six out of eight, with one draw and one defeat. However, as the short tour to South Africa proved, India are -- despite some decent performances -- bullies at home and lambs abroad. India's upcoming tour to New Zealand retains the core of the young squad that has done well in recent times. (India tour of New Zealand: Yuvraj Singh dropped, Stuart Binny gets a look in)
However, as seen with the Sandeep Patil-led selection committee, a few surprises have been thrown our way. (Looking forward to make most of the opportunity: Binny)
Yuvraj Singh has been axed from the ODI squad while Pragyan Ojha, who took 10 wickets in the last Test he played (vs West Indies in November), doesn't find a place in the Test side. Yuvraj's omission is understandable given his forgettable form off late while Ojha is being seen as a 'sub-continent specialist'.
Rather than the absentees though, it's the inclusions of pacers Ishwar Pandey, Varun Aaron and all-rounder Stuart Binny that has provided plenty of talking points.
By the look of things, Pandey's call-up to both the Test and ODI sides (yes, that's correct!) is interesting. Pandey is 24 years old, tall, lanky and bowls medium pace - very, very similar to Ishant Sharma! However the selection team seems to have done their homework on Pandey.
His first-class average (24.43) is better than each of India's current Test bowlers - Bhuvneshwar Kumar (26.69), Mohammed Shami (26.63), Zaheer Khan (27.75), Umesh Yadav (28.85) and Ishant Sharma (32.43). How Pandey translates his 'Indian' form overseas remains to be seen.
A permanent fixture in the Madhya Pradesh side on the domestic circuit, Pandey didn't take up cricket till 2007. In his own words, he 'bowled casually' during the local divisional trials in Rewa, MP but was picked for the state's Under-19 side. During the Ranji Trophy last year, Pandey emerged as the highest wicket-taker and has picked up a total of 131 first-class wickets. The figures suggest that he is likely to be an upgrade on Ishant.
The other 'fast' inclusion in the ODI side is Aaron, who is no stranger to Indian fans or to the physio's chamber. The Jharkhand pacer hit the headlines when he clock 153 kph during the final of the 2010-11 Vijay Hazare Trophy against Gujarat. However recurring injuries over the past three years has meant that Aaron has played just four ODIs and one Test for India. Aaron is said to have modeled himself on Andy Roberts and the 24-year-old would do well to replicate the West Indian great's ferociousness, consistency and tenacity.
The most exciting of the newcomers in the ODI side is Stuart Binny. Son of former Test cricketer Roger Binny, Stuart is big-hitting middle-order batsman and a handy medium-pacer. The 29-year-old is likely to take up Yuvraj's No.4 position and if he can replicate any of his IPL form-- where he plays for the Rajasthan Royals -- in New Zealand, Stuart has an outside chance to make the 2015 World Cup squad.
While a series against New Zealand may not be very 'attractive' on paper, the Indian players are likely to face some serious challenges on green-top wickets. The next World Cup is to be held Down Under in a year's time and good performances here will guarantee a ticket to cricket's greatest event.