Barring a few raised-eyebrows, the team selections for the ODIs and Tests in Ireland and England have been quite good.
Here are some of my “raised eyebrow” issues:
- The worst goof up is, IMVHO, the absence of a coach for such an important tour. This is going to be a long and an arduous tour and the embark on it without a full-time, professional coach is nothing short of blasphemy. While we can understand and perhaps even accept that Messers Sharad Powar, Niranjan Shah, Ratnakar Shetty and Srinivasan — Board aficionados — can do nothing more than smelling money, it amazes me that cricketing folk like Sunil Gavaskar, S. Venkatraghavan and Ravi Shastri can hold their heads high after delivering one of the bleakest moments for Indian Cricket! The lack of accountability for the manner in which this search process was planned, conducted and executed is galling. Who will pay for this mess that these goons have landed Indian cricket in? Surely this bunch couldn’t organise a booze-party in a brewery even if their life depended on it!
- This persistence with Gautam Gambhir is a bit puzzling. He is now in both teams, which makes it all the more frustrating. If the team wanted a cover for the Jaffer-Karthik combine for the Tests, perhaps Aakash Chopra would have been a better choice. He has a tight technique and has also worked the club circuit in England for the last few years!
- The absence of Dinesh Mongia will, I think, hurt the team. He is a decent bat. He has played many a season in England on the county circuit. And he is a decent enough bowler to claim the 5th bowlers’ slot in a ODI team. His absence hurt the balance of Team India in the World Cup and I suspect that this will be the case in this series too. Unless India are able to unearth a decent allrounder, someone like Mongia (or even Pathan) should be in the team, in my view.
- The presence of Ajit Agarkar in the ODI team! I really can’t fathom this. Perhaps the selection team decided that, with the unreliability of Munaf Patel, they needed someone more experienced in the attack. Agarkar continues to be an enigma. When Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag and Munaf Patel have been punished for their lackadaisical approach to the game, I am not sure why Agarkar was spared. While his physical intensity is not really in question, his mental approach to the game is certainly, in my view, lackadaisical.
- The choice of vice-captains. Sachin Tendulkar is vice-captain in Tests and Dhoni is the vice-captain in ODIs. Figure that one out! Is there a hint that, keeping in mind the huge “why two wicketkeepers” outcries during the Bangladesh Test series, this bifurcation in vice-captain responsibilities means Dhoni will perhaps sit out in the Tests against England? It is certainly possible, although I am possibly reading too much into things… Second-guessing Team India selectors is always a hard task!
- The presence of Laxman in the Test team. I have said enough on this topic in the past and so won’t repeat it. He is an over-rated cricketer with a poor work-ethic. He should make way for youngsters like Rohit Sharma, S. Badrinatha and Cheteshwar Pujara.
Having said that, let us look at the possible teams:
Robin Uthappa / Dinesh Karthik
Rahul Dravid (capt)
Yuvraj Singh / Rohit Sharma
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (vice-capt, wk)
Ramesh Powar / Piyush Chawla
Sreesanth / RP Singh
The first thing that strikes you about this team is its lack of balance. This is where a Dinesh Mongia (or a performing-Pathan) provide an edge. And that is another reason why the absence of Virender Sehwag creates a bigger hole. While one can certainly understand that Sehwag needs to be left out of the team, one can’t ignore the fact that Sehwag would routinely bowl 5-6 steady overs every game. Yuvraj Singh does not bowl much these days. And Sachin Tendulkar is no 10-overs-every-match type of bowler.
While Rohit Sharma does bowl off-spin, I don’t see him as able to dislodge the middle-grouping of Ganguly-Tendulkar-Dravid-Yuvraj. Morevoer, he has not really bowled in first-class games and has bowled only a few overs in List-A and Twenty20 games.
The fast-bowling department lacks discipline, balance, pace and depth. While one can understand why Munaf Patel wasn’t chosen, the left-field appearance of Ajit Agarkar is a throwback to the pre-World-Cup-2007 hoopla. The collective ODI experience of this group is shallow and will, I believe, expose them badly. Then again, they may do really well through a combination of hard work, disciplined line-and-length and fielding excellence.
The less said about the fielding, the better!
Dinesh Karthik / Gautam Gambhir
Rahul Dravid (capt)
Sachin Tendulkar (vice-capt)
VVS Laxman / Yuvraj Singh
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk) / Ramesh Powar
Ranadeb Bose / RP Singh / Ishant Sharma
The opening combination is a dreadful worry. Again, it is likely that Jaffer will pull his offside discipline together and it is likely that Karthik will be able to dig his heels in. But it is a worry that Team India is approaching its longer-term planning and development in this manner. I fear that Karthik is going to go down the path of people like Deep DropGupta, Party Patel and Sanjay Bangar before him! A makeshift can only be that… makeshift! Even Virender Sehwag, with a batting average of nearly 50, has been left behind. A makeshift he was too. I wonder how many more will be sacrificed before a longer-term view is taken of the opening position. It is a vital position — especially when touring England and Australia.
I hope the team does not play two ‘keepers. They can then either go with Powar or Yuvraj Singh at #7. I know (and have heard) the ‘spin’ around Karthik being chosen purely as a batsman. But if Karthik can ‘keep as well as Dhoni — and possibly even a tad better — why not choose another bowler?
The absence of any young batting talent in this team is also a concern. I’d have liked to have seen a Rohit Sharma or a Cheteshwar Pujara instead of VVS Laxman! But apart from a protest message from ‘gnbmdr’ this view isn’t going to do much — at least for the time being!
Finally again, the bowling… I have a feeling that one of Ranadeb Bose or Ishant Sharma (and not RP Singh) will get a guernsey in the bowling line-up. I like the look of Bose. And if there is an optimal place for his to make his debut, it would be in England. What he lacks in pace, he more than adequately makes up with away movement and line-and-length. Still, the bowling lacks depth and balance. The only safe way for this team to get 20 wickets consistently will be, IMVHO, if it goes in with a 5-man bowling attack. And for that to happen, Dhoni needs to bench-warm!
All in all, it is not a great selection effort. But it is not a bad hand either. It will have to do, given the bench-strength. The sacking of Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan has to be commended. At the same time, the reinstating of Ajit Agarkar is more mysterious than his Mickey Mouse ears! I do, however, feel that the absence of a proper coach, the absence of Dinesh Mongia from the ODI team and the presence of VVS Laxman in the Test team will hurt India.
I am happy to be proven wrong on all these counts…