After four hours of deliberation to choose a team to play five Limited Overs Internationals in Pakistan, the selection committee of the Board of Control for Cricket in India made two surprising decisions.
First, it picked a reserve wicket-keeper in a squad that has eight batsmen, four quick bowlers, and two spinners. Parthiv Patel has been chosen for the series though it is clear that Rahul Dravid will do the honours behind the stumps.
After 14 misses in the four-Test series in Australia, Patel does not seem an intelligent choice. There is no doubt that the teenager is talented and continuity is a key ingredient in building a successful team. But to continue with a player when there are other, better alternatives isn't particularly bright.
Why is Karnataka's Thilak Naidu not being considered? At the start of the current season, he was underlined as one of the top three 'keepers in the country by being chosen for the Challengers. But thereafter he was not given a chance in any side game, and now he has even fallen out of favour with his own association as evidenced by his exclusion from the South Zone team currently playing the Duleep Trophy.
West Bengal's Deep Dasgupta was at least picked for Australia. Patel's goof-ups have been well documented. But Naidu has yet to be given what he deserves -- a chance.
An Indian player revealed that Naidu missed selection because then chairman of selectors Brijesh Patel failed to make it to the meeting where the squad for the New Zealand series was chosen last October.
"They just don't want Naidu," he said.
The second surprise: Rohan Gavaskar was dropped despite a good showing in the VB Series in Australia.
True, Gavaskar was picked at the last minute because Mohammed Kaif had to miss the tour owing to a finger injury. But Gavaskar grabbed the chance with both hands. He scored 90 runs off the 107 balls he faced in six games in the VB Series at a healthy strike rate of 84. This included a fifty under pressure after India had lost early wickets against Zimbabwe.
Compare this performance with that of Hemang Badani, who has been picked for the Pakistan tour. In his very first game in the VB Series, Badani was promoted to number three against Zimbabwe, an opportunity any newcomer would have lapped up. But he scored just 15 and was back in the pavilion instead of finishing the game off his own bat.
There is no doubt that Badani is a talented player. But the problem is that his statistics belie his talent. Since June 2001, the Tamil Nadu batsman has scored just one half-century in international cricket, in the first final of the VB Series in Melbourne.
Kaif, who returns to the side, is certain to play ahead of Badani. Though there is some discontent about his return without playing any competitive cricket since his layoff, his form before the injury in the triangular tournament involving the 'A' teams of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka was enough to convince the selectors.
If Badani does get a chance, he will have to do really well to shut his critics up.
But the selections were not all bad.
After five domestic seasons, Ramesh Rajaram Powar has been rewarded for his perseverance.
The off-spinner from Mumbai was picked in recognition of his consistent performances with the bat. More than being the second spinner to Murali Kartik, he will be expected to fill the all-rounder's slot in the team.
The second high scorer for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy last season with 418 runs at an average of 46, Powar is the only new face in the Indian side.
Railways offie Kulamani Parida and Delhi's Sarandeep Singh were also in the running, but Powar's batting prowess helped him edge them out.
The 25 year-old Powar began this season with a bang, picking 4 for 61 and smashing a breezy 57 in the Irani Trophy tie between Ranji champions Mumbai and the Rest of India.
Without a doubt, India's strength will be their batting and the team's fortunes on the Pakistan tour will depend largely on how the batsmen perform against Shoaib Akhtar and Company.
In the absence of Ajit Agarkar, who picked up 11 wickets in the VB Series, including a career-best 6-42 against Australia in the first LOI at Melbourne, Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan will have to make the early inroads for L Balaji and Murali Kartik to restrict the scoring in the middle overs.
In the absence of the injured Anil Kumble, Kartik will have to find the form that worried the Australians in India during the TVS Cup last November.
With small chinks in their armour, the Indians will have to ensure that the team as a whole is better than the sum of its parts if they are to mess the Pakistani chemistry.
- Sourav Ganguly (c)
- Hemang Badani
- L Balaji
- Rahul Dravid (v-c, wk)
- Mohammed Kaif
- Murali Kartik
- Zaheer Khan
- V V S Laxman
- Ashish Nehra
- Parthiv Patel (wk)
- Irfan Pathan
- Romesh Powar
- Virender Sehwag
- Yuvraj Singh
- Sachin Tendulkar