There is a saying that ‘To gain something, you have to lose something’. India lost 8 Test matches on the trot, that too away from home in the 2011-12 season. Reminding many of the 1950s era, this continues to be a blot which perhaps Indian cricket might never be able to wipe off completely. India was in the top 3 of Test cricket, until a couple of days back when they were pushed down to the bottom half of the rankings thanks to those results in England and Australia.
Now, they are No.5. Try blaming the players, but these very players are selected by the BCCI which has a selection panel led by the former charismatic opening batsman, Krishnamachari Srikkanth. Indirectly, it is this selection panel which is responsible for the performances of the national team in all formats of the game. Like me, many felt that the failures would serve as a wakeup call to the Indian selectors and it was widely anticipated that there would be drastic measures taken to ensure that the team gets back to winning ways. But it is not so for a money-minded BCCI, who believes that the Indian public gets angry at failures for a while and then forgets about it.
The home Tests against the Black Caps is not far away. Yet, we see the sudden comeback of Piyush Chawla in the 15 man squad for the series. The leg spinner has not at all been impressive in domestic cricket. In the previous Ranji Trophy, he averaged 40 with the ball for Uttar Pradesh which is a bad figure for any spinner to have. It automatically implies that he has given away many runs and picked up less number of wickets. One writer rightly suggested that the Test team has to be picked on the basis of performances in Test cricket rather than the Indian Premier League or other T20 domestic competitions.
Even though Chawla, alongside Shaun Marsh is one of those players to have played almost every game for Kings XI Punjab in all the five seasons of the IPL, still his selection has no merit either in the Test team or the T20 World Cup squad. If IPL performances are to be considered with respect to the World Cup squad, then Chawla had an average of 26 and an economy rate of 7.35, barely managing to make it into the list of the top 10 wicket takers of the IPL 2012, finishing with 16 wickets which is by far one of his worst performances in the history of the tournament. He last played for India in the 2011 World Cup in the Indian subcontinent, but in only three games of the tournament in which he picked 4 wickets but was thoroughly expensive.
Chawla’s return means much more. Not so much in Test matches though, since it is likely that Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha will be the two spinners MS Dhoni would wish to pick in the playing XI while Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, if fit would be the two fast bowlers playing. But when it comes to the World T20, his inclusion will make India’s spin attack more vulnerable and it might mean that India would have to play three fast bowlers in conditions which actually favour spinners and slower bowlers. Thus, here too he will mostly have to be warming the benches as it is either Ashwin or Harbhajan who are likely to make it in the playing XI.
Harbhajan Singh’s inclusion for the World T20 matches is another shocker. His last international appearance was in the Test series in England a year ago. He has had his worst season by far, as he suffered from several injuries and a huge dip of form in domestic cricket and the IPL, despite leading Mumbai Indians decently to the playoffs stage yet again. Perhaps, his moment in the sun was the Champions League T20 win last year but in that tournament as well, he was not at all convincing.
The best possible reason for Bhajji’s dismal performances could be a change in his style of bowling. T20 cricket has made him more defensive and almost like a medium pace bowler, attempting to bowl on the block hole instead of continuously attacking the stumps with a ball between the good and the full length, which has actually seen him pick more than 400 Test wickets. An experienced off spinner regularly bowling round the wicket to a right hand batsman is a huge shame, and it suggests that Bhajji is now content with the containing runs strategy instead of picking his wicket. And even if the strategy is the latter, it has clearly not worked for him as batsmen have realized that he has become too predictable.
If Bhajji’s role for India is containing the batsmen, then this selection is fair enough. But being a fan of Harbhajan the old, he should not have been picked for a marquee tournament like this since he must complete a whole season in England and practice on tougher wickets for the Champions League T20 this year in South Africa. Based on the performances in these tournaments, the selectors should have picked him later in the year for the limited overs contests at home against England and Pakistan. By then, he could have been much more confident to later play in the Tests against Australia in February 2013, his favourite opposition.
Pragyan Ojha would go down as one of the unluckiest cricketers to have ever represented India. He has always suffered due to the irrational decisions of the Indian selectors. He should have been in the starting XI in the Test matches in Australia, but he was not. Now that the series against New Zealand is at home, fortunately he should be able to play alongside Ashwin. But his absence from the T20 World Cup squad is astounding. Ojha would definitely be a better option than Chawla or his Mumbai Indians skipper Harbhajan.
His consistency has been near to perfect in the IPL, whether he has played for Deccan Chargers or Mumbai Indians. Being one of its all-time leading wicket takers, he deserves to be in the Indian team for the limited overs matches as its second spinner as Ashwin too has been impressive. He can drift the ball away from the right handers and has more variations to trouble the best in the business, as good left arm spinners prove to be the game breakers. He has the ability to bowl as per the situation, which is so crucial in T20 cricket where a bowler just has 24 balls to make an impact. Ojha’s presence would have made the Indian bowling attack more potent for the World Cup, so this could be turn out to be a huge mistake if the team once again fails to progress beyond the Super Eights stage of the tournament.
Rahul Sharma’s exclusion from the T20 squad also comes as a surprise and he alongside Ojha could have easily been there in the place of Chawla and Harbhajan. But if the BCCI is punishing Sharma for testing positive for recreational drugs in a rave party at Mumbai during the IPL 2012, then they are justified to do so. Although there is no formal announcement yet as to what the BCCI intends to do with him. But if he was there, he could have formed a good combination with Ashwin as he is at the moment, one of the best T20 spinners in the country.
That was the spin department. Lakshmipathy Balaji is back in contention to play for India, having last played an international match in 2009. The Tamil Nadu pacer has suffered several career threatening injuries in the past, which is why he has lost a tremendous amount of pace and has become more of a medium pace bowler. Yet, his fortunes have dramatically changed ever since he switched his base in the IPL from Chennai Super Kings to Kolkata Knight Riders.
Balaji was considered by SRK and co. as one of those Indian pacers who would make merry in conditions favouring slow bowlers and thus an integral part of their team. In the IPL 2012, he picked 11 wickets only but went for just 5.40 runs per over. His role was critical in the Knight Riders winning the championship for the first time ever, a year after he was held responsible for the team finishing fourth in the IPL 2011 thanks to his last over in which he conceded 21 runs in a home game against Mumbai Indians, which was the last league match of the competition.
He may have come a long way since then, but Balaji’s selection at the expense of leaving out a bowler like Praveen Kumar is nothing more than a shocker. Praveen is 100% fit at the moment and has been a proven performer for India in ODIs and T20 cricket. Besides, he surely has more variations in line and length as well as pace to trouble the batsmen in Sri Lankan conditions. He was one of the few performers in the IPL for the Kings XI Punjab in the 2012 season. Praveen would have made a great opening combination with Zaheer Khan in the tournament. Maybe Praveen could have been selected ahead of Ashok Dinda, who has been inconsistent when his performances in the IPL 2012 for Pune Warriors India and in the Sri Lanka ODIs for India are monitored carefully.
Dinda might not actually stand a chance to get a game for India in the tournament, unless one of the fast bowlers, either Zaheer or Irfan get injured. Besides, even in that situation, Balaji could be preferred as the second ‘fast’ bowler to play. India could have actually picked Ravindra Jadeja, who could have not only bolstered their batting strength, but also is a left arm spinner. He may have not lived up to his ‘USD 2 million’ price tag in the IPL 2012, but he did win a couple of games for Chennai Super Kings almost on his own. However, he may be in the radar of the BCCI in case Yuvraj Singh does not do well in the Buchi Babu tournament and the T20 internationals against New Zealand.
And then ofcourse comes Yuvraj Singh. He has been India’s emotional favourite ever since it was discovered that he suffered from germ cell cancer in his lung. His fight against the deadly disease has been inspirational for many and thus he is loved now rather than hated, since his attitude has clearly changed towards life and cricket. Now that he has recovered from it, the BCCI would have thought ‘Why not give him a chance to make a comeback into the Indian team through the T20 World Cup?’. If history is taken into account, Yuvraj was the man responsible for India winning the 2007 edition of the tournament in South Africa and the 2011 World Cup, in which he was crowned the man of the tournament. He is definitely a match winner for the team and Dhoni’s right hand man, but it may be too early for him to make a comeback in international cricket.
In a tournament which is global and thus very crucial, Yuvraj’s selection is a huge gamble. India’s strength is their batting line up and so he would have to score heavily if the team has to win their second World T20 championship. He should have given more time for practice in domestic cricket, and then selected for the T20s against England and Pakistan at home before he could head back to ODI and Test cricket, since he is not ready to play these two formats of the game as yet. Thus, more than a gamble, it is an impulsive decision taken by the selectors, going by the sentiments of the people.
Rohit Sharma’s is another baffling case. He is in the T20 team, but not in the Test team for New Zealand. His consistent performances in the IPL might have won him a place in the World Cup squad, but it cannot be ignored that this is the same man who had the highest score of 5 in the ODI series in Sri Lanka recently. Instead, he should have easily made it to the Test team where India needs to find out which are the batsmen who can best replace Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman in the future, now that Rahul Dravid has retired from all forms of international cricket. The two matches against New Zealand could have been the start for Rohit’s Test career, looking at the fact that he was benched for the most of last year when India played West Indies at home and Australia in Australia in Test matches.
He could have made it to the team in the place of Laxman, who had a pathetic run in his favourite country Australia last season. This shows the short termist attitude of the selectors who just consider selecting the team as a formality. They are not willing to accept that it is high time now that India have a succession plan for their senior cricketers.
The concept of ‘paid selectors’ not working well, eh? And what is Suresh Raina doing in the Test team? Isn’t this the man who struggled with the short pitched deliveries in England last year and soon after, was discarded from the side? Agreed that Raina is a superb limited overs cricketer, but he does not deserve to play Test cricket considering that there are better options such as Rohit, S Badrinath and Manoj Tiwary.
Ajinkya Rahane, who had a fantastic IPL 2012 opening the batting alongside Rahul Dravid for the Rajasthan Royals, is not to be seen in the World T20 squad. He played one ODI on the Sri Lankan tour, which made many believe that he was a part of the selectors plans to make it to the final 15 to the competition. He maybe a standby for either Virender Sehwag or Gautam Gambhir, both of whom are injury prone players and Sehwag in particular, does not have a great history of playing in World T20s. It is good however, that he has made it to the Test team and might even make it to the starting XI.
The other selections seem fine, which include Sachin Tendulkar returning to action having played previously in the Asia Cup in Bangladesh in March earlier this year. Tendulkar could have been rested again for a younger player, but unfortunately the selectors are not that rational enough. The selection committee for sure, needs a tweak and to begin that, Srikkanth has to go. Even if he was at the helm of selecting a World Cup winning squad in 2011, since then he has been a major disappointment for the nation with his callous attitude and arrogance. Sourav Ganguly or Anil Kumble for example, could ideally replace him as the Chairman of Selectors.
This selection committee needs to understand that India must get back to the No.1 spot as soon as possible in Test cricket, while they are not too far away from it to achieve that in one-day cricket. And for that, they need to think ahead of time and pick players on merit in the ideal format of the game. Whereas, now that the squad is selected for the T20 championships, all India can hope for is fortune, since T20 cricket is a melange of both skill and fortune.