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December 18, 1997


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Fuzzy logic

Syed Firdaus Ashraf and Prem Panicker

Jaywant Lele, honourable secretary of the BCCI, is now in Sharjah -- supposedly because someone needed to be there till the end of the tournament, in order to bring back the Indian flag.

In his stead, Jyoti Bajpai, joint secretary of the BCCI, got to convene the meeting of the national selection committee on Thursday. And to brief the press about it afterwards.

The hottest topic in the media briefing was Mohammad Azharuddin. Briefly, the selectors asked Sachin Tendulkar and Anshuman Gaikwad to leave, then summoned the former captain for a discussion. At the end of which, he was retained in the squad to play Sri Lanka. "Azharuddin was pardoned and told that the team expects better performances from him," Desai said in the media briefing.

What actually happened behind the scenes? We caught up with Bajpai, via telephone, at the Hotel President in Bombay. What follows is the gist of our conversation:

What exactly happened with Mohammad Azharuddin?

"Well, we had watched the games on television and listened to the comments, heard reports from friends who were there, also from coach Anshuman Gaikwad, so we decided we needed to have a chat with him, and so we invited him to attend the meeting."

What was discussed?

"It was felt that his running between wickets in particular was not quite up to the mark, and that he had played rather slowly in the game against Pakistan. Also, coach Gaikwad felt that Azhar was keeping aloof from the other players, so that was also discussed. A senior player, we felt, has to contribute towards grooming the younger ones."

And what was Azhar's explanation?

"As far as running between wickets is concerned, he pointed out that in that particular case, the batsman, Rahul Dravid, had played the ball square on the on side, and that it was therefore Azhar's call as non-striker, it was only because he was sent back that he was run out. About the performance in general, he indicated that he had been having a bad run of form in Sharjah. He said also that it was not true he didn't mix with others -- it was only that he felt he couldn't interfere too much because he was not the captain, so he would only discuss any thoughts he had with the coach."

Was the "bad form" excuse accepted?

"Well, Azhar pointed out that he has been in good touch until Sharjah, and that even against Pakistan he was batting well. He also pointed out that he had taken some very good catches and fielded well throughout, it was only his batting form that was a bit suspect. Besides, he also told the committee that he felt not enough attention was being paid to running between wickets and to fielding, Azhar said that in his opinion, each player should in practise be taking 100 catches a day, working on their sliding stops in the field, and also running exercises."

And what did the committee conclude?

"Well, he is a senior player, we decided he was too valuable a player to drop and informed him that he was expected to contribute more, to perform better. We also asked him about media rumours that he was interested in the captaincy and he denied it, said that he was only interested in the batting."

So what, meanwhile, is with bringing back Mohanty, Harvinder, Laxman et al?

"Well, the committee decided that we need to try young players keeping in mind the World Cup in 1999."

In which case, how do the likes of Sidhu and Azhar, who will be in the mid-thirties at the time, fit into the matrix?

"Well, like I said, Azhar is right now too valuable a player to drop. As for Sidhu, we are asking Jadeja to open the innings, and Sidhu will bat at one drop, and as and when needed, his replacement will be found."

Why was Dravid dropped? And Kambli?

"Well, neither of them could make the regular playing eleven, so it was decided to drop them."

And how about Laxman?

"Like I said, he is in the side as part of our experimentation with youth."

But Laxman and Dravid are the same age? So how is one young and the other not?

"We are trying out different combinations now, like I told you."

Will Laxman make it to the playing eleven, do you think?

"Well, it is hard to say but unless one of the senior players has an off day, it seems unlikely."

In that case, he can and will be dropped at the end of the series, on the grounds that he is not a member of the playing eleven?

"You see, we are not computers, we can't get everything right, we are trying our best, now please excuse me, I have another call to take..."

End of briefing. Now why is it we feel less well informed at the end of it than at the beginning?

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