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Why Team India needs Wasim Jaffer

By Faisal Shariff
Last updated on: February 20, 2013 11:57 IST
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Sachin Tendulkar may not be able for all the overseas Tests scheduled for the next couple of years. M S Dhoni has hinted giving up the Test format. Virender Sehwag's future hangs by a thread; Gautam Gambhir is already out.

Which is why, says Faisal Shariff, India will need players like Wasim Jaffer.

Old habits, as clearly illustrated by John Wright, die hard.

The former India and New Zealand coach has just taken over as the Mumbai Indians coach. But, in an act that is not foreign to his nature, he was on hand to watch the Irani Cup match along with the selectors.

Strangely, the men who needed to watch the proceedings -- India Captain M S Dhoni and Team India Coach Duncan Fletcher -- were far away from Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium, attending to far more pressing matters.

The second and third string of India barely get any attention from India's team management, which results in them rarely getting picked for a playing XI even if they are in the squad.

This lack of interest by the coach and captain makes the job of the selectors, led by Sandeep Patil, even more important.

With an annual pay packet of Rs 60 lakhs (Rs 6 million), the selectors are accountable for their actions. Yet, even when India lost eight overseas Tests in a row, Krish Srikkanth and his panel of selectors did not feel the need to take responsibility.

The panel of selectors headed by Patil is at least seen to be doing something.

First, they brought back Harbhajan Singh for the Tests against England. Then, they dropped him -- along with Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh -- for the final Test at Nagpur.

These were certainly bold decisions at the time.

Now, the same panel has brought back Harbhajan for the Australia series despite the series of moderate performances he has put up in the domestic circuit. Why? No one will know, just like we don't know why he was dropped after bowling just 20 odd overs (much lesser than Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha) in the Mumbai Test against England.

Another bold step that the selection panel has taken this time is to drop Gautam Gambhir. Gambhir's replacement, Shikhar Dhawan, has had a very good domestic season and deserves a call-up.

The same, however, cannot be said of the other opener, Murali Vijay, who seems to be the perennial reserve opener at home but rarely overseas.

Sometimes, you need to take a short-term view in the Test match format, especially when there is no World Cup or any other crown to aim for.

In the 1970s, English selectors often went to the county circuit to bring in hard-nosed professionals to play Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and the West Indies quicks.

Given the state of our domestic cricket, India does not have the luxury of doing that. But there was one proven performer in Wasim Jaffer, who deserved a recall on the basis of sheer weight of his runs this season.

Not that Dhoni or Fletcher would have been aware of Jaffer's run-making prowess this season, but still it would have been worth a look-in.

Remember from December 2013 till February 2015 -- that is just before the World Cup -- India has as many as 15 overseas Tests in South Africa, New Zealand (if the tour materialises), England and Australia.

These Tests will make or break some careers, separate the men from the boys and shatter some myths.

When you look at that schedule, it seems that the selectors have taken the soft approach.

Remember there is little chance of Sachin Tendulkar being available for all of those overseas Tests. Dhoni has time and again hinted at giving up the Test format, so we could end up losing all the experience that is left in the middle and lower order.

Then there is Virender Sehwag who hangs by a thread; Gambhir, the other experienced player, is already out.

Shouldn't the selectors have then at least looked at players who have had a taste of Test cricket -- like Jaffer or Anil Kumble's preferred number six, Mohammad Kaif, or Murali Kartik?

But this is where the travesty of the system comes up.

While Dhoni may not remain in Test mode for much longer, Fletcher may not last longer than March 2013.

The selectors have a bigger dilemma, in that any adventurous selection will result in their tenure being cut short in September 2013.

Which begs the questions: When everyone is anyway looking at short-term gain, why is it being applied selectively?

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Faisal Shariff