Their objective ever since they took over at the beginning of the season has been laudable no doubt, but most of them have been unable to bridge the gap between domestic and international cricket, due to the lack of experience and exposure. In Australia, they simply could not adjust to the pace and bounce of the pitches there.
Chandu Borde and his colleagues will have to start off with the perennial problem of finding a suitable set of openers. Sadagoppan Ramesh made an impressive start in the series against Pakistan at the start of the last year. India's prayers seemed to have been answered when he found a suitable partner in Devang Gandhi during the home series against New Zealand.
While Gandhi flopped in Australia, Ramesh put up a reasonably good show till he was rendered hors de combat following a cracked thumb. His inclusion in the Board President's match against the South Africans to be played in Mumbai from February 19 to 21 indicates that he has since recovered.
Yet, the fact that he has been away from the competitive scene for long and missed a lot of matches including the recent Challenger series places a question mark over his fitness and form. All the same, if he puts up a reasonably good performance against the South Africans, he deserves a chance.
Who should be the second opener? Wasim Jaffer looks like the best candidate. He has waited patiently while others just as good or less endowed have overtaken him and are no longer in the picture.
At times, selection depends on various factors and Jaffer was possibly a bit unlucky. This season, though, he has been scoring heavily not only in the Ranji and Duleep Trophy, but also in one-day matches. He has shown a high degree of consistency. The first Test, be it noted, will be played on his home ground, the Wankhede Stadium, where the pitch offers more pace and bounce than most other centres in the country.
There are two other options. One is to try out V V S Laxman. The other is to pitchfork Nayan Mongia who has doubled up as an opener and not done a bad job. The trouble is that neither is a regular opener. Laxman does so mostly in Tests and since he is not accustomed to the job, he seldom succeeds. In Australia, he raised hopes with a century in the third Test, only to disappoint again later. He is being wasted because he can do extremely well in the middle-order.
Though one cannot easily endorse Mongia's double role as opener and wicket-keeper, a role that Sameer Dighe can also perform, whatever they contribute can be taken as a bonus because their main job is that of a wicket-keeper. Mongia can be preferred as he is more experienced in both roles.
Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly follow and there can be no question they are the best at numbers three, four and five. The number six position, however, is not easy at all. It is basically an all-rounder's slot, but we have invariably preferred an extra batsman.
Here Azharuddin is pitching a strong claim. Barring one Duleep Trophy match that he says he could not play due to personal reasons, he has played in all domestic fixtures and done well in most of them. It shows not only his commitment but also his determination to regain his place in the Indian side. It will be unfair to say the least if he is kept out because of personality clashes or that he is allegedly unpopular with his teammates.
If we have a wicket-keeper as an opener and Azhar at number six, we have the advantage of including five bowlers. The reason why the attack has flagged invariably after striking early blows is because they tend to lose stamina and ideas fast. Srinath, Prasad, Mohanty, Kumble and Sunil Joshi can keep bowling in tandem and keep the pressure on. Robin Singh can also be tried, but he will become the fourth seamer and India will be left with one spinner.
Three seamers and two spinners will give the attack both depth and variety. Of late, we have been relying on four bowlers including just one spinner. A bowler has to carry a big load in a test match which lasts over five days.
There are at least two youngsters who deserve encouragement. They are Mohammad Kaif and Reetinder Singh Sodhi. Kaif did not particularly excel in the Youth World Cup that India won, but showed fine form in the Challenger Series. Reetinder has played solidly throughout.
The problem is they are both primarily batsmen and cannot be easily fitted into the eleven. The best course therefore would be to include them amongst the reserves to give them the feel of a Test match and the opportunity to rub shoulders with seniors. Robin Singh could be the third reserve as he has time and again showed that he can score in a crisis and provide a breakthrough. He is also an outstanding fielder.
The team suggested may not meet with the total approval of the selectors, but then they will have to go largely by form and find the right replacements for those who were an utter disappointment in Australia. It will not be proper to persevere with them at this stage, as they need some time to recover from the trauma of the trip.
The big question, though, is the nature of the pitch that will be prepared for the first test. If Krishnamachary Srikkanth carries out his threat of staying put in Mumbai and ensuring that the pitch has both pace and bounce, we will be gifting away a track to the South Africans' liking. The Wankhede track invariably is of a sporting nature and we need not try to make it even livelier than it is.
Besides, considering the mental and physical state of the players, we will do well to produce a pitch that will facilitate a draw. This will enable India to regain their morale and put up a better performance in the second and final Tests. We should have sporting tracks of the kind Srikkanth desires, first for domestic matches so that players get accustomed to them and are well prepared for international contests. Let us quickly get over the Australian nightmare and look ahead with confidence to the South African series. Confidence is the key.