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Team India: What was Srikkanth and Co thinking?

By Faisal Shariff
August 14, 2012 16:35 IST
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Faisal Shariff is mystified by the selection committee's choices for the Indian Test and T20 teams.

Back in 2008, after a protracted battle with chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar, the Board of Control for Cricket in India in its wisdom decided to end the chief selector's interactions with the media.

For years prior to that, the chief selector's interaction with the media alongside the BCCI secretary after a team selection was nothing short of hilarious.

The explanations from the chief selector moved from the sublime to the ridiculous. The selection chief would struggle at times for an answer; at other times the BCCI secretary of the time would jump in with a bizarre explanation. Of course, some times the wrong name would be picked and celebrations would begin in the wrong household.

The only chief selector who explained the selection panel's decisions in the best way was Kishen Rungta in 1997-1998 who stepped up following Ramakant Desai's untimely death.

Cut to 2008-2012 and we have the theatre of absurd playing out right in front of us. The BCCI has stopped the chief selector's media interactions, but Krishnamachari Srikkanth still pops up in front of cameras in a scrum to say: 'We have chosen the best team possible and we are sure that we will win' and if you ask him anything further, he would just say: `Now shut up'.

While it is a perfect image building exercise for Srikkanth, and the BCCI could not care less for the number of unanswered questions, the fan at large is left flummoxed.

The latest in this episode is the selection for the Test series against New Zealand and the T20 squad for the series against the same side as well as the World Twenty20.

Srikkanth did his ritual of building an image for life after September 2012 as a former cricketer and left. But his panel had left everyone stumped.

Firstly, the Test squad is an amazing reflection of what the panel and team management actually thinks of India's fortunes in this format. India's last Test series was a 0-4 defeat to Australia.

You would have thought that it would make the wise men sit up and take notice. But amazingly, what has happened is that the three reserves from that Test tour: Vinay Kumar, Rohit Sharma and Wriddhiman Saha have been sacked. And a fourth, Rahul Dravid, has called time on his career. Everyone else retains his place.

But it gets even more curious. Returning to the squad is Piyush Chawla after four years. Last season he picked just 27 wickets at 40.62 from nine first-class games. Clearly the selectors have seen something that mere mortals have not.

Suresh Raina returns after an ordinary Test tour to England in 2011 where he fell victim to Graeme Swann after being softened by the quicks.

Raina's selection is understandable as he seems one who could play for India for the next ten years and possesses leadership skills too. Trouble is it seems unlikely he will get a chance in the batting line-up that has Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar, Laxman, Kohli and Pujara (who should be an automatic selection in the playing XI).

Ditto for Ajinkya Rahane who deserves a chance -- if rebuilding is a word that matters to the selectors.

A fit-again Ishant Sharma has also not played any match since March, but has still been picked. How? Why? We will never know unless we have sources close to the selection panel. Bowling in the nets is one thing and getting some competitive cricket under your belt, another.

For Pujara there's a lot of work to be done. He replaces a man who has six hundreds in the last four seasons at home and averaged 54.37 in 17 Tests since the end of 2008.

The hot number of the India-New Zealand Test series will be the fight for the batting slot left behind by Rahul Dravid.

Similar questions also come up when you look at the Twenty20 squad. Yusuf Pathan is not picked, possibly because we have too many regular and part-time off-spinners. But does that logic not apply to Harbhajan Singh? Yusuf Pathan deserves a place in the T20 team and needs a clear brief.

Dhoni has got to do a Warne on Yusuf and get him to perform to his optimum as it changes the entire look of the T20 squad once you have him walking out at 7 or even 8.

India has the most celebrated T20 league in the world, but yet picks its Twenty20 teams based on performances in ODI and first-class cricket. Why would you not have a closer look at not one, but two Twenty20 tournaments being staged in the country? I have never managed to fathom how Saurabh Tiwary managed to play for India before Ambati Rayudu.

The only player picked on performance in T20 games has been Lakshmipathy Balaji who was one of the pillars of the Kolkata Knight Riders' IPL title win this year. But at 31, what's the vision going in for him?

The selection panel's only good decision was to spare Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma a go at the Twenty20 formats. With eight Tests at home in the 2012-2013 season there is a lot more at stake for the Test squad. But what happened to Praveen Kumar, a limited-overs specialist till last season? That's a national secret.

Yuvraj Singh's selection is supposed to be an inspired pick by the selectors. As much as I am a fan of Yuvi, the greatest worry is that if he were to fail what would it do to his confidence and how would the next selection panel react to his failure?

Yuvraj is a match winner and that is indisputable, but to throw him at the deep end after what he has been through is foolhardy.

The T20 team has the look of an ageing ODI squad that does not have the energy for the shortest format of the sport. Surprisingly, the Test squad is slightly younger than the T20 squad. Go figure.

If you thought the absurdity ended there, then look at the India A squad for the New Zealand tour. Yet again the same squad has been chosen for all three formats.

Amazingly, the batsman with the poorest returns from the India A tour to the West Indies, Abhinav Mukund, has been made captain for the New Zealand trip.

Robin Bisht was injured in the West Indies, so we have to assume that he is still not fit and hence not going to New Zealand. But what about Saha, is he also injured? And Parwinder Awana, why is he not going to be on the flight to New Zealand?

The only bright spot is the inclusion of Surya Kumar Yadav. I am betting on him being the future star of Indian cricket.

Faisal Shariff is one of India's best-known cricket writers.

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