Why is Dhoni not giving Gurkeerat a chance?
The lack of a settled allrounder is one of the reasons the Indian cricket team is struggling in the shorter formats of the game. Several players have been tried out but none of them have managed to hold down a regular place in the team.
Ravindra Jadeja got an extended run but was eventually dropped after the second ODI against Bangladesh in June when India were humbled by the hosts. The squad for the current series against South Africa has three allrounders in Stuart Binny, Axar Patel and Gurkeerat Singh.
It was Binny who got the first chance in the opening ODI at Kanpur but he failed to make an impression with either bat or ball. He was the most expensive bowler with his eight wicketless overs going for 63, including one over which cost 21. Then during the chase, he could only make 2 in 5 balls at the death.
Binny would be a good choice in overseas conditions where the ball swings but in India, a spinning allrounder is probably a better bet. He was replaced by Axar for the second ODI at Indore.
Axar bowled well in Indore, grabbing 3/39 in his ten overs. All the wickets he took were big ones: Amla, du Plessis and Duminy. And he got the even bigger wicket of de Villiers in the third ODI in Rajkot.
And, yet, to call Axar an allrounder is a bit generous. In 20 ODIs, he only averages a fraction over 10 with the bat. It's clear that at international level, his batting is not yet upto the desired standards. The No.7 spot is one place too high for him.
Axar is the poor man's Jadeja. He is probably a marginally better bowler than Jadeja but a vastly inferior batsman. He doesn't even have a first class century yet.
Dhoni pointedly noted in his post-match press conference in Rajkot that the team was still looking for somebody at No. 7 who could play the big shots. In which case it's odd that Gurkeerat has just been carrying drinks so far.
It's well known that Dhoni does not like to tinker much with a team. In the IPL this year, for example, Dhoni bizarrely did not give a single chance to Irfan Pathan for the Chennai Super Kings.
But, having made it to the squad, Gurkeerat has to play, and sooner rather than later. The 25-year-old from Muktsar in Punjab has been in terrific form lately. He was the Player of the Match in the final of the triangular series involving India A, Australia A and South Africa A in August. Gurkeerat took 2/42 in his ten overs and then smashed an unbeaten 87 in 85 balls to take India A over the line against Australia A by four wickets.
Then, in the one-day series against Bangladesh A in September, Gurkeerat hit 65 and took 5/29 in the same game. More recently, in the Ranji Trophy earlier this month, he hammered his highest score in first class cricket, an unbeaten 201 in just 207 balls for Punjab against the Railways.
The other option is to bring back Jadeja who is in terrific form in the Ranji Trophy. He is the leading wicket taker so far with 24 wickets in two matches including four consecutive five wicket hauls. And he has also made 91 and 58 in the two innings he batted.
Perhaps we shouldn't read too much into it since the opposition teams were Tripura and Jharkhand. But Jadeja's international record is not bad at all, even though he is mocked with the prefix of Sir. He averages over 32 with the bat in ODIs, which is just what the doctor ordered for a No.7 batsman. And he is also a genuine bowler who can deliver ten overs, not a part timer.
Jadeja has already returned to the Test squad and it's probably only a matter of time before he becomes part of the ODI scheme of things too. But before that, Gurkeerat deserves a fair run.