Published in www.cricketnext.com on November 23, 2010

Harbhajan Singh has shown so much composure and panache with the bat in the Test series against the Kiwis that he is a safe bet to be considered as India’s prime all-rounder in the upcoming World Cup.

With less than three months to go for the mega tournament, India has to finalise its overall strategy immediately. For years now India has faced a real dilemma in that they have not had a genuine all-rounder in their one-day side.

Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan and more recently Ravindra Jadeja, have not really been able to impress with their all-round skills on a consistent basis. While the Pathan brothers have been in and out of the Indian side, Jadeja has performed very rarely with the bat and has been just adequate with the ball.

The bowling skills of top order batsmen Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina and even Sachin Tendulkar could come in handy at times in the Cup but they cannot be relied upon to deliver the goods consistently.

In order to allow India to play five specialist bowlers, the number 7 slot in the ODI batting order for India should go to Harbhajan Singh, who is a certainty to play in the side for his off-spinning abilities alone. He would also have more time to score his runs at that position than at number 8 or 9.

We have witnessed an appreciable improvement in his batting skills and his ability to hit both the spinners and the pacemen out of the ground over the years. The problem has been that this has happened only rarely in big matches.

However, given his recent performances, whereby he notched up two centuries in successive Tests against the New Zealand side and also a fifty, he would be in the right frame of mind to take on a more significant role in the World Cup as an all-rounder.

This would also mean that India can include a genuine left-arm spinner like Pragyan Ojha in the playing XI instead of playing the less impressive Jadeja.

India’s very talented 1983 squad which annexed the Cup under Kapil Dev was a prime example of several all-rounders playing in the squad.

However, the days when bits and pieces players won ODI matches are all but over in the modern era.

Today’s international ODI side needs to have specialists to do the job. India would thus need five bowlers and five batsmen apart from skipper and keeper MS Dhoni in the 2011 World Cup. That is why Harbhajan’s multi-faceted talents can come in handy. Fellow bowlers Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra are also capable of scoring a few useful runs rapidly in tight situations.

Team India will be hoping that India’s key batsmen will ensure, however, that the bowlers do not have to bat at all. Sachin Tendulkar would be keen to score some big hundreds on the World Cup stage once more and finally be part of a Cup winning side.

The ideal XI for India, going into the big event, thus looks like this:

Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Mahender Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh , Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra and Pragyan Ojha.

Big-hitter Yusuf Pathan, opener Murali Vijay, pace-man Ishant Sharma and the talented Virat Kohli could make up the bench strength for the Cup and India would fancy their chances with such a strong team in familiar conditions.

Team India’s track record in the last two ICC T-20 World tournaments and the ICC Champions Trophy has been poor, and they would be looking forward to redeeming themselves and capturing the biggest prize of them all.