The Indian selectors have announced the team for the 4th and 5th ODIs against Australia. It sees only one change to the team that played the first 3 ODIs. Murali Kartik, the left-arm spinner comes in for Romesh Powar.
This, in my view, is a future step into the past!
I accept an argument for a left-armer in the team. We probably need a spin bowler in the middle-overs that can take the ball away from the strong Australian right-handed middle order!
So what is Yuvraj Singh doing in the team then?
I accept that, at 30, Murali Kartik is perhaps a much more developed bowler now than he was a few years back. Why? He may even be the best left-arm-slow bowler in the land. For sometime now, Dilip Vengsarkar, the Chief Selector, has often bemoaned the state of left-arm slow bowling stocks in India. In the past, he and his team of selectors, which includes Venkatapathy Raju in its midst, have shown faith in Rajesh Pawar, the 28-year old Baroda/Mumbai bowler. Indeed, Pawar even went to Bangladesh earlier this year as part of the India team!
In the past few years, India has tried several left-arm-slow bowlers in a desperate bid to revive what has been a thriving art-form in India. In a land that has produced the likes of Bapu Nadkarni, Bishen Bedi, Dilip Doshi, Ravi Shastri, Maninder Singh and even Sunil Joshi and Venkatapathy Raju, the cupboard was thoroughly bare. The reason for Tendulkar’s difficulty with left-armers like Ashley Giles, Daniel Vettori, Paul Harris, Ray Price, et al, has been put down to the fact that India has lost its ability to groom left-arm-slow bowlers.
In the landmark 2001 series against Australia, India tried three left-arm trundlers in the three Tests — Rahul Sanghvi, Venkatapathy Raju and Nilesh Kulkarni (in that order, at Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai). It did not help that Sourav Ganguly had nothing but contempt for both left-arm-slow bowlers and Murali Kartik! Murali Kartik did play in Australia in 2003, but made a meal of his chances and was forgotten after that.
So, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the search for that elusive leftie continues. However, two questions arise. Why continue this search in a high-powered-ODI series, and that too when the team is 0-2 down to an all-powerful and all-conquering Australian lineup?
Murali Kartik was himself surprised by the call-up! Despite a few successful county stints with Lancashire and Middlesex (this year) — he has been so successful at Middlesex this year that they have, reportedly, already signed him up for next years’ season — he has not been a part of the frame for an India comeback! The selectors have been grooming Pragyan Ojha and Rajesh Pawar instead. Recent representative teams have included Ojha, the Hyderabad left-armer and/or Pawar, the Baroda player. Murali Kartik wasn’t included in recent India-A teams or the RoI team for the Irani Trophy!
Given that scenario, Kartik is currently working as a TV media analyst in the Australia-India series!
Don’t get me wrong. Murali Kartik is, in my view, a good left-arm spinner — perhaps the best in India. But let us remember that this is not a Test series! Do we really think Murali Kartik will get a game? In whose place? And what does his presence do to team-balance? His presence, in my view, upsets balance. Of course, unless he replaces one of the bowlers? Sure, that is possible. But who will he replace? Zaheer Khan? Harbhajan Singh? Sreesanth?
Team balance screams for India to groom allrounders. Blind Freddie will tell you that. Instead of looking to the future to groom “allrounders” like S. Badrinath, Manoj Tiwary — a player who has put his hand up to be considered as an allrounder in recent times — Joginder Sharma or Praveen Kumar, a re-look at a player like Murali Kartik in the ODI framework appears to me to be a throwback to a dull and listless past.
Sure spinners mature late and I have no problem with Kartik playing matches. But ODIs? Especially in an environment where the key area where Team India hurts most — and this should be obvious to anyone following Indian ODIs in recent months — is in the area of team-balance affected by the lack of allrounders.