India's 'unstoppables' look to the future

Published: Wednesday, September 5, 2007, 9:51 [IST]
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India go to the Twenty20 World Championships in South Africa hoping to mould a limited-overs team for the future as time ticks away for their ageing superstars.

India are bracing for the time when the brilliant trio of Sachin Tendulkar, 34, Sourav Ganguly, 35, and Rahul Dravid, 34, end their careers at almost the same time to leave a big void in the national team.

The selectors have prepared for the future by resting the three, as well as pace spearhead Zaheer Khan, for the Twenty20 event, promoting dashing wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni as captain.

It will be the first time since Tendulkar made his Test debut in 1989 and Ganguly and Dravid followed in 1996 that India will be without their star batsmen for a major limited-overs event.

The gamble to infuse fresh blood in the team for what is widely regarded as a young man's game may have been hastened by growing criticism of India's poor fielding standards in recent times.

The flurry of dropped catches and misfields on the England tour prompted one writer to call the Indians the "unstoppables" - in other words, a team that can't stop a ball.

"Indians can't throw long, can't slide and can't hit the stumps," said Cricinfo, the sport's leading website.

"They often grass catches, concede overthrows and make a mockery of themselves in trying to stop a cricket ball."

Few expect Dhoni's new-look team to win the Twenty20 title, having played just one international in the shortest version of the game, but the selectors will be pleased if fielding levels rise.

"We expect young players to be fit and athletic with a safe pair of hands," said chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar. "They should not be hidden on the field."

Seasoned seamer Ajit Agarkar, 29, who is one of India's better outfielders, is the oldest player in the revamped squad while eight of the chosen 15 are 24 years or less.

But only six have played in the country's lone Twenty20 international in which India stunned South Africa by six wickets in Johannesburg on December 1 last year.

Aggressive opener Virender Sehwag, who captained India in that game, and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh return to the international arena hoping a good showing in South Africa will help them regain their Test places.

"Personally, this Twenty20 event is very important for me," said Sehwag, 29, whose poor form cost him a place in the side for the England tour after being regarded as one of India's finest talents not very long ago.

"This Twenty20 version suits my game because I hate leaving or defending a ball. Here I can play my shots from the start. I can't wait for the tournament to start."

Dhoni, 26, was excited at the prospect of leading India and dispelled doubts that the team's inexperience in the new format will prove costly.

"I am an eternal optimist," said the brilliant striker who has become a cult figure in India for his penchant for playing big shots.

"We have a 100 percent win record in the game and that's not a bad start. We may not have played it much but we know what the game is about.

"We will shock a few people who do not have faith in our abilities."

India are grouped with arch-rivals Pakistan and minnows Scotland in the preliminary league with two teams advancing to the Super Eights round.

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