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A slap to form, fitness, fielding, and first-class cricket

One feels that unless the likes of Ashok Dinda, Manoj Tiwary, S Badrinath, Abhinav Mukund and Ajinkya Rahane start visiting unisex parlours and score TRP soaring stunts in IPL, they are not likely to have any future in our test team.

This was supposed to be the season of hope; the dawn of a new era. A season where we would see our next generation starlets twinkle, en route to forming a core of a robust team, battling for top honours, come South Africa 2013.

Alas!

The XV selected for the home series vs England leaves us with one word – suspicion – about the standard of our domestic cricket, the calibre of our next generation players and the basic criteria of team selection. It’s clear that the selectors have gone for star power and stature rather than First Class numbers or the future.

A team with Sehwag, Gambhir, Harbhajan, Ishant and Zaheer is likely to scare the opponent on paper, but apart from that, there is no reason why they have been handed an India cap after 18 terrible months.

18 months – where we were thrashed 4-0, and 4-0 (by you know who), laboured to embarrassing 2-0 home wins over teams like West Indies and New Zealand, both of whom are likely to struggle in the Ranji trophy, got knocked out of the first round of every ODI competition we played in and out of the only meaningful round in the World Cup T20 event. To add to it, barring an odd innings here or there, no Indian made any significant contribution to their franchises in the recently concluded CLT20 event.

Simple put, this was the worst 18 months I endured as a cricket fan in over two decades.

However, if these players shine, all will be forgotten – the crowds will flock back, the TRP ratings will soar, the players will be chased for bytes and ads, player management companies will make more money and BCCI will laugh its way to the bank.

But ask yourself, how many in this line-up are likely to serve us over the course of the season (forget even SA 2013), and I am not even including Tendulkar in this argument.

Sehwag averages 35 in the last two years, that number massively boosted by chancy knocks at home against the Kiwis annd the Windies. He is 35 now, and fields like a player ten years older. I can almost repeat the same line for Zaheer Khan apart from the fact that Veeru will last a series. Zaheer will most definitely not.

Gambhir averages 33 in last two years, massively boosted by meaningless runs in the second innings of games (as by that time, India were on their path to huge innings defeats). He celebrated his 31st birthday last year and fields like a player five years older.

Yuvraj’s career average (35) is slightly above his age, 31, and he has just made a comeback from a surgery which prevented a life threatening disease from growing inside him. His ability to withstand the sun and pressure of international test matches is rather suspect.

Vijay’s career average stands at 30, and he has come back to the team on the basis of just two meaningful first class knocks.

Behind, in the pecking order stand five players who are averaging between 53 and 63 in first class cricket, but find themselves out of favour for a variety of reasons.

Rahane averages 64, Badrinath 60, Rohit and Tiwary 58, Mukund 53. Of these, Rohit and Tiwary have played or warmed benches in so many meaningless ODIs and T20s recently, that they never got a chance to improve chinks in their armoury. Barring Badrinath, all of them have some recent form going into the series, form which is worth making claims as strong as Vijay or Yuvraj had.

Then you add their fielding skills. Even if four of them were to take the field, just on the basis of their on-field conduct, we are likely to get a headstart of 20*4=80 runs per innings and make a toothless bowling looking potent.

However, if the above players were unlucky to make the cut, the unluckiest has to be Ashok Dinda. The Bengal pacer has been the backbone on which his state reached the Ranji trophy final; he single-handedly decimated the South Zone in the semis with a seven-wicket haul which.

In first class cricket, Dinda averages almost the same at Ashwin (29 vs 27) and has a better strike rate than the over-hyped offie (55 vs 60). On our batting-friendly pitches, which have nothing for pacers, Dinda’s numbers are commendable. On top of that, he is a player who should be groomed for the longer version of the game.

Instead, it was the same old story of unfulfilled promises, otherwise called Ishant Sharma, who made the cut. In 2008, he seemed to be the best thing to have happened to Indian cricket since Yuvraj Singh. Today, he runs like a long-haired but aimless deer searching for his career objectives, when not lying injured.

Hence the current selection has sent a few unwarranted messages (directly or indirectly) to us fans, and none of them make for good reading.

It says that the staggering first class averages of Dinda, Badri, Rohit, Tiwary, Rahane and Mukund are not enough to get them a place in the test team.

It says that even clubbed with their world-class fielding skills, they aren’t considered good bets, and instead 35-year old superstars with poor recent averages, unfit bodies and worse fielding skills are preferred. What the youngsters need to do to get a test slot will forever remain untold to them.

It says that performances in our first-class competition, along with averages obtained in it, make no sense. After all, the selection of test team is going to be based on ODI performances, which in turn is going to be based on IPL performances!

It says that they should visit unisex parlours more… Dinda celebrating a five wicket haul or Badrinath/Tiwary raising their bats for landmarks won’t get crowds or advertising men as excited as Zaheer, or Sehwag, or Yuvraj doing the same.

It says that our test selection will never be based on the future, or form, or first-class form, or fielding abilities. It will however be always based on stature, backing from big-wigs (Rahul Sharma, anyone?) and the IPL!

It says that the board isn’t worried about making a robust team worth reaching the top. Their sole aim now is to win the next match with stars who are well on the downward curve, but give good marketing value, and in Yuvraj’s special case, a sentimental value!

Alas!

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