One step forward, two steps back

Written by: Deepak Joshi
Published: Monday, October 6, 2003, 19:19 [IST]
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Bangalore: The Indian Cricketers finally got what they so badly wanted and needed. A long period of rest after finishing runners up in the World Cup 2003! And when BCCI organized a fitness camp for 36 chosen ones in September 2003 to kick start the 2003- 04 cricket season in right earnest, it earned wholesome praise from every quarter. The idea was perfect! To form a pool of 36 best players of the country and have them perform under the watchful eyes of the Indian Team Coach, Physio and the Trainer so that the bench strength could be strengthened in line with the requirements of the Indian team. One look at the Indian playing eleven and it is obvious that the trio of Leipus, Le Roux and Wright has taken them to an altogether different level in terms of physical fitness and body conditioning, compared to what they were even a couple of years ago. No one could argue with the line of thinking that fringe players need to be prescribed similar fitness regimen and coaching as is for the super stars so that they can smoothly fit into the side as and when the situation demands.

So much for idealism! Now let us look at the execution part. Once the selectors applied their collective thinking, one would have thought they would come up with the best possible set of 36 players who would don the India cap for One-day as well as the Test Matches at least in the 2003-04 season.

Right? Wrong! Promising youngsters like Tinu Yohannan, for no particular reason had been omitted out of the list and equally amazingly players like Sadagoppan Ramesh, Connor Williams and so many others were called in India 'A' and Board President's XI matches against New Zealand, even though not part of the originally chosen 36!

One could argue that the 36 selected ones had to be divided into three teams for the Challenger Trophy and Ramesh, Connor, Tinu etc are only in contention for Test slots! In that case, what were people like Shiv Sundar Das doing in the list of 36 and Challenger? What exactly is the criterion for finally selecting a player for the Indian team?

In every interview that Syed Kirmani has given, ever since being appointed as the chief selector, he has promised to be transparent and fair.

The Indian Cricket team of 14 players has just been announced for the First Test against the Kiwis. It reads; Akash Chopra, Sehwag, Laxman, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Parthiv Patel, Kumble, Harbhajan, Zaheer and L Balaji. Add Avishkar Salvi, Yuvraj Singh and Sairaj Bahutule and the line up of 14 is complete for you. The team members have been deliberately listed in this fashion because barring an injury to one of the first eleven, imagination would need to be stretched to visualize any of the last three making into the playing eleven! One wonders whether the objective of selectors is to come up with a set of 14 players of which 11 automatically select themselves for the actual match play!

The real test is going to be the forthcoming tour of India Down Under. Moreover, the selectors would have done well to focus on selecting a pair of specialist openers and given them a long run beginning with the first Test against the Kiwis. Akash Chopra, Gautam Gambhir, Wasim Jaffer, S S Das and after his brilliant century for India 'A', the long forgotten S Ramesh were the genuine contenders, but it seems to be an eternal story of one step forward and two steps back!

Selectors are happy to persist with Sehwag, aware of the fact that in the Indian conditions he is perfectly capable of massacring the Kiwi attack to shreds. So, one would hardly be surprised if Sehwag is one of the most successful batsman in this home series and once the tour in Australia begins it's the same old spectacle of Parthiv Patel being goaded by his illustrious partners to go and face Gillespie and McGrath upfront once Sehwag is sorted out by them in the first few matches! Remember Bangar? M S K Prasad? Nayan Mongia? Countless others who had to be pushed up because makeshift ones proved out to be,well! Makeshift!

S Ramesh was doing splendidly as an opener till he opted out of the trip to South Africa a couple of years back, ostensibly because of a back injury. Sources reveal that the perception of the bosses of that time was that he had chickened out of the relatively tough series and hence deserved to be punished by not being considered subsequently. If one buys that argument, Ramesh has been 'suitably punished' by being kept out of the team for over two years now.

But the point is, once he was not picked in the list of 36for the conditioning camp, or for the Challenger/ Irani Trophies, he shouldn't have been picked for the India 'A' team at all! And once he was picked for India 'A' and actually smashed a very polished century, again there was no reason to keep him out of the Test Team. Simple solution would have been that Ramesh and Chopra should have been the openers in this team and Sehwag in place of Yuvraj Singh. In this arrangement, Sehwag would have snapped on Laxman's heels continuously and kept Laxman on his toes too!

Alas! It seems that is what the selectors did not want in the first place! Why Yuvraj should be in the team is another enigmatic one as Hemang Badani definitely had better claims for the slot. Yuvraj had an embarrassingly disastrous stint with Yorkshire this year and was a total failure in the longer version of the game in England. So much so that Yorkshire actually had to take the hard decision of keeping him out of their playing eleven before shortening his contract itself. He came back with a bang in the Challenger Trophy and earned a place in the Rest of India XI as well as Board President's XI! While he did splendidly in the Limited Overs Challenger Trophy, he came up with another clumsy performance in the Irani Cup.

Badani, on the other hand not only did well in Challenger and Irani Trophy but also came up with a splendid century against the Kiwis playing for India 'A'. More importantly, in all the innings Hemang has shown great consistency and maturity in being able to establish significant partnerships with tail enders, something India could really do with at the moment!

Dinesh Mongia is one player who certainly has got a raw deal in this whole arrangement. To think that he has not been considered for either Irani Trophy or the Board President's XI or the India 'A' Team is truly mind boggling considering his penchant for tall scores and consistency in First Class Cricket.

It would have made perfect sense to ensure that Mongia, Yuvraj, Rohan Gavaskar, S Sriram, Laxman, Sehwag and Badani all played in at least two of these three games and then the most successful three should have been picked up to play for India. That truly would have been transparent and fair Kiri!

PS: BCCI would do well to pick up three teams for the subsequent Challenger editions and call them India A', India 'B' and India 'C'. It doesn't make any sense to call one particular team as India Seniors when it consists of youngsters like Patel, Salvi and Sodhi and has to face an opposition that is called India 'A' even when it comprises of old war horses like Tendulkar and Kumble!

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