The test and travail that one can go through while waiting for that national call-up can be well summarised from Amol Muzumdar’s precedent. The second-highest run-scorer of all time in the Ranji Trophy, a tournament considered to be a launchpad for future international cricketers, couldn’t play a single match for his country.
His consistency at the first-class level was unparalleled, same as Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, who played at his preferred batting positions in international cricket. The man kept piling runs in the domestic level but couldn’t even make it to the squad at the highest pedestal.
That’s how tough it is to play for India.
Sometimes though, the most unprecedented calls (and recalls) in the national side tend to laugh in the face of this sheath-like screening process.
Let us look at five individuals not only managed to play for India but also made out of the blue comebacks for the Men in Blue.
#1 Rahul Dravid’s unexpected goodbye to ODI cricket
Rahul Dravid: "At the end of this one-day series, I would like to announce my retirement from one-day and Twenty20 cricket and concentrate only on Test cricket. Since I had not been picked for one-day cricket for the last two years, I was obviously a little surprised.”
Previous ODI played: 30th September 2009
ODI comeback date: 3rd September 2011
Call-back after: 2 years
The India tour of England in 2011 was unofficially renamed “Dravid vs England” pertaining to the veteran’s heroic performances in the Test Series. When the rest of the Indian batsmen could score just seven fifties combined, the Wall stood at its tallest with three virtuous centuries in four Test matches.
The sorry-condition of the rest of the batsmen was so tangible that the Indian selectors made a shock decision of recalling the then 38-year-old to the ODI side. What more, he was also in the T20 squad, for a format he had never played internationally!
Dravid announced an emergency press conference minutes after the news went public, and declared his retirement from limited-overs cricket after the series.
His performance in the ODI series was quasi-decent, and he scored a 69 in his last ODI at Cardiff. He debuted and retired from the shortest format in India’s only T20 game of the tour. He clobbered Samit Patel for three consecutive sixes before perishing for a score of 31 off 21 deliveries in the match.
#2 Parthiv Patel in Indian whites
Parthiv Patel: “Playing for your country is the biggest honour and making a comeback is even harder. Virat (Kohli), along with other teammates made me comfortable as and it was pleasing to get runs for the team.”
Previous test played: 8th August 2008
Test comeback date: 26th November 2016
Call-back after: 8 years, 3130 days and 85 Tests
Parthiv Patel made his debut for India at the age of 17 in 2002, and the last test that he played for the country was in December last year, at 31 years of age. In the fourteen years between these two instances, he has played just 23 test matches. That is some stat, isn’t it?
Some batsmen are the designated floaters of their side playing at a variety of position in the batting order as per the situation of the game. They don’t have a spot that they can call their own, and their job description is never the same.
Patel has been India’s floater for the last decade.
He is a special kind of floater though. He doesn’t float around a batting order; he floats around the squad. He’s in and out of it as and when required, and is considered only when the team’s regular wicket-keepers are unavailable.
He was selected in place of injured Wriddiman Saha for India’s third Test against England in Mohali last year. It was a special match for him, as he performed well in both the innings and hit the match-winning runs with his willow. He went on the play the next two Tests too and ended up scoring a total of 195 runs in the series with an average of 65.
#3 When VVS Laxman’s travelled to South Africa to score a duck
VVS Laxman (May 2006): “I will definitely be included in the ODIs. I am just looking forward to grab the opportunity.”
Previous ODI played: 7th August 2005
ODI comeback date: 3rd December 2006
Call-back after: 1 year
VVS Laxman, along with Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag and Anil Kumble, was one of the biggest names of Indian cricket in the last decade. However, his stardom fell a tad short in comparison to the other five. One of the leading causes for that was his inability to establish himself in the shorter format of the game.
Both Laxman and Dravid were textbook-perfect batsmen for Test cricket, but needed to adapt to ODI cricket. While the man from Bangalore could find a way to re-invent himself in 50-over cricket, the man from Hyderabad could never make it big there.
He not only had to compete with youngsters like Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif and Dinesh Karthik but also his contemporaries like Dravid for that coveted ODI spot.
He was dropped from the ODI squad after BCCI's platinum jubilee match with Pakistan in 2004. He featured in a couple of games in the following year, but was left out immediately after that.
The comeback that he was waiting for came with the unavailability of skipper Dravid for the last two ODIs against South Africa. The BCCI called him in as Dravid’s replacement, and he flew to South Africa half a month before he was scheduled to for the Test series against them.
He did not get a chance in the 4th ODI but came in for Wasim Jaffer in the final ODI. India had already lost the series by then, but the match was their chance at avoiding a whitewash.
It also was a chance for Laxman to change the course of his plummeting ODI career. Unfortunately, neither of the two could happen. India was thrashed by nine wickets, and Laxman fell for a second-ball duck.
His comeback match, consequently, became his last ODI match.
#4 Abhinav Mukund’s first home Test
Abhinav Mukund: “It almost seems like a debut for me. It has been so long since I played for India. A lot of things have changed, but we are still the No. 1 team. I received a warm welcome. A lot of them understand that making a comeback after five years is not easy.”
Previous Test played: 29th July 2011
Comeback Test date: 4th March 2017
Call-back after: 5.5 years
If there’s one player in this list of players who can come even close to understanding Muzumdar’s struggle, it’s Abhinav Mukund. The only chance he got to represent India was in India’s tumultuous overseas tours of 2011, where he played two tests in West Indies and two in England.
He scored a couple of half-centuries in these eight innings but was pushed out of the team immediately after the then-injured Virender Sehwag was match fit again.
After that, Mukund performed consistently in domestic cricket, while waiting for the national call once again. It came almost six years and 56 Tests later, when Murali Vijay was injured after India’s first test against Australia in 2017.
Mukund could not justify his return though and fell for scores of 0 and 16 in the match. Eventually, the 27-year-old wasn’t selected in the playing XI for the next Test, and his comeback was restricted to that one match.
He might’ve not been able to create an impact on his return, but his comeback deserves plaudits. Furthermore, the man from Chennai got a chance to play for his country despite being out of the squad for more than half a decade.
#5 Laxmipathy Balaji’s Twenty20 international stint
Laxmipathy Balaji: "I attribute my comeback to the national team to my stint with the Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League. I have been in good form for the past two seasons for the Knights and I am grateful that the selectors have taken notice of my performances.”
Previous international appearance: 8th February 2009
Comeback match: 11th September 2012
Call-back after: 3 years
2012 was the year that marked two epic comebacks in the history of Indian cricket: one, from the clutches of cancer, and another, from a three-year hiatus. The former was emotional, intense and exhilarating in its magnitude. It saw national and World Cup-hero Yuvraj Singh make a stirring return to the Indian playing XI after a terrifying tussle with cancer.
The second comeback was relatively quiet and under-the-radar but was significant in its own right.
After an impressive run at the 2012 IPL, Balaji made his comeback into the Indian squad for the World T20, which was to be hosted by Sri Lanka. He ended up playing all five matches of the tournament, scalping a total of 10 wickets in his first T20 international run.
The last match that he played was also India’s last match of the tournament, where they failed to restrict South Africa to less than 121 and thereby, crashed out on the virtue of NRR.
Balaji bowled a memorable last over though. Running in with 14 runs to defend, he was whacked for two sixes: one each by the two Morkel brothers.
It looked like India would fail to pocket the match after all. However, Balaji managed to send both Albie and Morne Morkel back to the pavilion, and India won by a decisive one run. His comeback was marred by the failure to go deep in the tournament, but memorable due to the dramatic second-last ball finish.