Since the turn of the millennium, Indian cricket has risen to prominence on the back of a host of consistent performances from several great cricketers. Most, if not all of these cricketers who have made their marks have one thing in common. They have all been given a longer rope.
That is, despite the several dips in form and injury setbacks they may have had in their career, the team management has provided its backing with a sense of assurance of their spot.
On the flip-side, one of Indian cricket’s tragedies is that for every unworthy cap that has been given a longer run, there has been at least one more-deserving player who has been overlooked by the selectors. While several cricketers have reaped the rewards of this endemic strategy, the ones that have been overlooked will simply consider this an endemic tragedy.
Here we run through a list of 5 such cricketers who could have gone on to turn into the greats of the game if given a longer run.
#1 Robin Uthappa
While several careers were ruined under the Greg Chappell era, there were a few young brigadiers that led the charge. Leading this charge alongside Irfan Pathan was a young lad from Karnataka, Robin Uthappa. Known as the ‘walking assassin’ owing to his tactic of charging down the pitch trying to unsettle the bowler, Uthappa is one of a kind. Handy with the bat as he is with the gloves, he is capable of opening the innings or finishing a game off.
Debuting as an opener in India in 2006 against England, he scored a well-made 86, carving the bowlers around the park with his elegant strokeplay. Uthappa was a valuable asset for the Indian T-20 side in their 2007 World Cup triumph where he scored a match-winning half-century against Pakistan in the group stages. Equally memorable was his 47 not out of 33 deliveries where he helped chase down a mammoth 317 against England in an ODI.
The former Royal Challengers Bangalore and Pune Warriors batsman churns out scintillating innings season after season. The 6th highest run-getter in the IPL, he is a clean hitter of the ball. In addition to his ability to elegantly hit through the line and across the line, his repertoire consists of the cute scoops, cheeky flicks and reverse sweeps that a modern day batsman possesses.
The 32-year-old right-handed batsman has represented India in just 46 ODIs and 13 T20Is. He still slogs it out in the Ranji Trophy where he now represents Saurashtra. Every IPL reminds us of the capabilities of the batsman who still harbours hopes of representing the country.
However, the ship has already sailed. The batsman once regarded as the next best thing in Indian Cricket who made his debut before the Pandyas and Dhawans is simply a tale lost to misfortune.
#2 Pankaj Singh
Pankaj Singh was the first bowler from Rajasthan and only the fourth pacer in the country to take 400 wickets in first class-cricket. The tall 32-year-old pacer who represented India in just 2 Tests is yet another addition to India’s what-ifs.
Having churned out wickets by toiling hard in unfavourable tracks in India year after year, Pankaj Singh was first picked for the 2007-08 tour to Australia. He used to just warm the benches.
Following this, the bowler with an uncomplicated and rugged action never returned to the squad for 6 long years. A six-year long period where India tried every possible bowler except him. This despite him topping the charts year after year and helping Rajasthan win the Ranji title.
Pankaj finally made his debut in the 3rd Test at Rose Bowl, England in 2014. It took the burly pacer 26 spells, 69 overs and 415 balls to take his maiden wicket. He ended the 2 Tests with just 2 wickets.
However, those are figures that are purely deceptive. Pankaj, who consistently beat the batsman and induced edges which flew everywhere but to the hands of a fielder, was incredibly unlucky. For anyone who watched the two matches that he played religiously, they would tell you that he was undeserving of those numbers.
He bowled with pace, extracted bounce and swung it both ways without much purchase. He had Cook who went on to make 95 dropped by Jadeja when he was just 5. This was perhaps the moment the series went out of hand.
Following this, Pankaj had an LBW decision of Ian Bell given against him. Shami who sprayed the ball around, and Rohit who barely managed to bowl in line with the stumps got wickets while Pankaj remained wicket-less in his first game.
In the second game, Pankaj finally had Buttler with a brilliant change of pace. While he wasn’t quite the best bowler in the series, he was arguably India’s best bowler in the last 2 matches. However, unlucky Pankaj never found himself on the squad lists again.
#3 Wasim Jaffer
The recently concluded Ranji Trophy series saw the underdogs Vidharba lift the trophy. While the young pacer Rajneesh Gurbani powered them on the bowling front, it was the Indian stalwart Wasim Jaffer who led the team on the other fronts.
A batsman with a style similar to Azharuddin, Jaffer, on his debut in 2000, succumbed to Allan Donald's pace and Shaun Pollock's tenacity. However, in the few games that he played, he showed signs of his unflappable temperament. Despite this, his international career was temporarily put to rest.
After having made a string of big scores, he returned to the squad to play in the Carribean Islands where he stroked his way to two elegant half-centuries. However, this was not deemed enough as he was ousted from the team yet again for throwing it away when well set.
Having piled on the runs for Mumbai in the domestic wilderness, he returned to play against Sri Lanka in 2005. He cashed in on the return and later against England at Nagpur, he notched up his maiden Test hundred. The selectors rewarded him with a fair share of opportunities as he repaid them with double centuries against the West Indies and Pakistan.
By doing so he became only the third Indian batsman ever to score two double centuries as an opener after Vinoo Mankad and Sunil Gavaskar.
Following this, Jaffer had a few poor outings in the three Tests he played against South Africa and subsequently with Gautam Gambhir’s entry, his career was all but over. Looking back, the former RCB batsman can only feel a tinge of sadness about how his stop-start career panned out.
#4 Murali Kartik
Murali Kartik first announced his arrival when he spun a web with his economical run up and guile around the South Africans, taking 4 for 40 and 3 for 30 in an Under-19 Test. Much was spoken about the Railways cricketer who was touted to be the next partner to Anil Kumble by filling in for the ageing Venkatapathy Raju.
However, with the entry of Harbhajan Singh and Saurav Ganguly as a captain, the left arm spinner played understudy to him.
For a career spanning 14 years, 37 ODIs and eight Tests seem far too few. Like a perpetual son from a fairytale, Kartik patiently waited for the decline of the Kumble-Harbhajan duo. However, with the selectors looking to groom the young guns, Kartik saw his place going to newcomers Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha.
In his short career, Kartik’s best moment came at the Wankhede where he ran through the Australians, taking seven wickets in the match to bowl India to a famous win in 2004. However, after this match-winning performance, Kartik only got to play just one Test more before being dispatched to the periphery.
Former India batsman, VVS Laxman even went on to say that if given his fair share of opportunities, Kartik could have been a match-winner that would have picked up 300 Test wickets. However, for now, Kartik is just another to add to India's long list of could haves and should haves.
#5 Manoj Tiwary
The backbone and arguably the best batsman Bengal has produced after Sourav Ganguly, even ahead of current India wicket-keeper- Wriddhiman Saha is Manoj Tiwary. It is indeed curious to know why the Bengal captain has never been given the long rope by the selectors.
On the back of a few incredible knocks in the 2007-08 Ranji trophy, Tiwary was rewarded with a ticket on the flight to Australia for the Commonwealth Bank Series. Unfortunately, the Howrah born youngster was castled on debut in Brisbane by a deadly yorker from none other than Brett Lee. What was even more unfortunate was that he was not considered for the next three years.
Three years later, Tiwary made his comeback against the West Indies. However, getting sporadic chances and being in and out of the team after the tour did not help his cause. Playing in the 5th ODI against West Indies, Tiwary came into bat when India had lost two wickets for 1 run. He proved his selection right by scoring an unbeaten century for which he was awarded the Man of the Match.
Despite his heroic efforts, Tiwary was dropped after that century.
44 matches later, having toiled hard in the Ranji Trophy, where he added another facet to his game, he made a comeback as an all-rounder replacing Rahul Sharma at Colombo. Yet again he proved his selection picking up four wickets to go with the 21 runs. He followed it up with a brilliant 65 in the next game at Pallekele. Once again, he was in the squad for the Commonwealth Bank tri-series and the Asia Cup in 2012 but failed to get any chances.
He was then picked for a lone match against Bangladesh in 2014 and played what is now his last ODI at Harare in Zimbabwe. In an era under Dhoni, where the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Yusuf Pathan were given chance after chance despite lack-lustre performances, we can only wonder why the former Knight Riders and Daredevils batsman was not given his fair share of opportunities.