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Noel David to be flown to Caribbean

Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Delhi and Prem Panicker in Bombay

The national cricket selectors, meeting in Delhi on Tuesday under the chairmanship of Ramakant Desai, picked 26-year-old Hyderabad off-spinner Noel David to augment the Indian team now touring the Caribbean.

Disclosing this, Board of Control for Cricket in India secretary Jagmohan Dalmiya said David was not, repeat, not, being flown out as replacement for the injured Javagal Srinath. "David is being sent not as a replacement for Srinath, but in keeping with the requirements of the touring team management," Dalmiya said, pointing out that Indian skipper Sachin Tendulkar and coach Madan Lal had specifically asked for an off-spinner, keeping in mind the relatively placid wickets and the number of left-handers in the West Indies batting line-up.

The statement, of course, conveniently glosses over one simple fact -- well before the team to tour the West Indies was picked, every single analyst worth his byline had indicated the vital need for an off-spinner in the squad to counter the West Indies left-handers. And both skipper Tendulkar and Madan Lal had indicated, before the team for the Windies was selected, that they would like an off-spinner in the squad -- so the question remains, why did the selectors not pick one in the first instance?

Why was an off-spinner not sent with the original squad? Asked this question at the time of the original team selection, Ramakant Desai came up with a classic: "Show me an off-spinner who is capable of taking the wickets of left-handers and I will include him in the side," the august chairman of Indian selectors said then, appearing very miffed that such a question had been asked in the first instance.

So where did Desai and his cohorts now find an off-spinner, less than two weeks after making that famous statement? But then, Desai and the other selectors are not in the habit of answering such inconvenient questions.

Asked whether a medium pacer -- Salil Ankola's name has been floated in this connection -- would be sent to the Caribbean to augment the touring squad, Dalmiya said the tour management had not asked for a medium pacer.

Dalmiya, in fact, flourished a letter written by Tendulkar, vice-captain Anil Kumble and coach Madan Lal from the Caribbean, calling for an off-spinner, and said it was in this context that the national selectors had met in Delhi on Tuesday.

Interesting, especially when taken in context with the fact that Ankola -- or any other medium pacer -- as of now will not be flying out to reinforce an attack weakened by Srinath's injury.

The obvious attempt here is to present the picture of a board that is keen to accomodate every wish of the Indian cricket team's tour management. But strangely, though Dalmiya said the Indian management had not asked for an extra medium pacer, he -- and the selectors -- appear to have conveniently forgotten that the truth is otherwise.

Tendulkar did in fact ask for an extra medium pacer -- the request was made right here in India, before the team was selected, when the captain said he would like to have five fast to medium pace bowlers in the line-up. Again, even after arriving in the West Indies, Tendulkar has asked -- pleaded, really -- for an additional bowler, the much-discussed 17th bowler.

With what result? First, the team is sent with just four fast to medium pace bowlers. And with Srinath now injured, it has been reduced to just three medium pacers in Venkatesh Prasad, Abey Kuruvilla and D Ganesh -- two less than the five that Tendulkar had said was ideal.

How then does Dalmiya, on behalf of the selectors, put on this expression of injured innocence and claim that the tour management had not asked for a medium pacer, which is why Ankola is not being sent?

Even more surprising was Dalmiya's statement that there is no bar by the ICC on the number of players sent on tour. "Team managements quite often ask for more than 16 players, and these issues are judged on merit," Dalmiya said.

Raising an intriguing question -- since there is no official reason for not sending the 17th player, given too that Tendulkar and Madan Lal had specifically requested the extra player, was the request "considered on merit"? And since the selectors have turned it down, does this mean that Ramakant Desai and company failed to see any merit in the request by the Indian captain that he be given 17 players for a long, tough tour of the Caribbean?

No answer, predictably enough.

Interestingly, Dalmiya also indicated that besides David, the names of Aashish Kapoor and David Johnson were also considered by the selection committee. "Kapoor was not selected because he is not in good form," said Dalmiya.

And Johnson? Given that the national selectors, by Dalmiya's admission, were meeting to pick an off spinner, why was David Johnson's name considered? Last we heard, he was a medium pacer -- when did he turn into an offie worth considering?

As always, every time the national selectors meet, they leave us with more questions than a dog has fleas.

Meanwhile, on the subject of Srinath, Dalmiya said the Indian fast bowler would consult Dr Mark Ferguson, the shoulder-injury specialist who had earlier treated Allan Donald for a similar injury. "If Dr Ferguson certifies that Srinath is fit, then he will rejoin the Indian team in the West Indies," Dalmiya said. "And if he is not fit, or if he himself asks for rest, and if the tour management asks for a seamer, then Ankola will be sent, he has been asked to say in readiness and even his visa has been procured."

Regarding the choice of Noel David, who played for India A in the recent SAARC tournament, Dalmiya described him as a young, promising player. "If he clicks, then it will be good for the Indian side," the BCCI secretary said. "Noel bowled well in the SAARC tournament and is, besides, a superb fielder and a decent bat with a double century in Ranji Trophy to his credit."

Reverting to the question of Srinath, Dalmiya said the injury he had sustained, and carried, through the South African tour had been discussed at length in the selection meeting at Bombay on February 19. "Both Tendulkar and Madan Lal said they were aware of it and that, barring Srinath not being able to throw overarm, the bowler had no other problem. Srinath had also produced a certificate from Dr Ferguson. If the key player is medically declared fit and makes himself available, it would have been unfair not to select him," Dalmiya said.

Reacting angrily to suggestions that the frenetic cricketing schedules were responsible for Srinath's breakdown, Dalmiya said, "Most cricketing teams like Australia, South Africa and England have been playing without a break lately. And even in the past, bowlers like Kapil Dev have performed, uninterrupted, over prolonged periods without any injuries."

Meanwhile, arrangements are on to fly David out to join the touring party. Of course, it is far too late for David to make the team for the first Test, starting at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica on Thursday, March 6 -- and this in turn means that the Indian tour management have no choice but to pick the bowlers who are already a part of the touring party, irrespective of form.

''I am happy, delighted and excited'' was how David, who was playing a league match at Hyderabad's Gymkhana grounds for his side, Syndicate Bank on Tuesday, reacted when he was informed about his inclusion in the Indian side.

In Hyderabad's cricketing circles, David is known as a wristy off-spinner, a stubborn middle-order batsman and a superb fielder. Like the two other Hyderabad players in the side, Mohammad Azharuddin and V V S Laxman, he first won notice at the city's St Gabriel school.

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