Indian selection - The Bongs' conundrum
Yet another high-voltage bilateral series has come knocking at the door for the Men in Blue. The English tour of India officially starts on November 8th, 2012 with the first Test slated to be played at Ahmedabad. The tour consists of 4 Tests, 2 T20s and 5 ODIs . With memories of the 4-0 whitewash that England meted out to India last year in their homeland still fresh in the minds of cricket-crazy Indians, the upcoming bilateral tourney promises a lot! With pride, dignity and cricket at stake for India, the preparations for the series had to be done with a lot of stealth, determination and strategic acumen. That has happened – to some extent. Almost all the stalwarts of Indian cricket, including Sachin, Sehwag, Gambhir and Zaheer, were spotted playing for respective states in the Ranji trophy very recently. Surely, that shows how much the series means to India. Yet, as with everything Indian, we messed up at the final frontier of all the high-profile preparations – the team selection! The 15-member squad for the first 2 Tests has been announced amid a sea of expectations from the media and the fans; however, the team selection has offered less assurance and more questions for the deep-thinking analysts!
The bowling department
It is back to the subcontinental regime once again – overwhelming importance for spinners and a lackadaisical attitude in dealing with the pacers. Besides R.Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh has been the big inclusion in the spin wizardry of India. Harbhajan had last played a Test in 2011, when India toured England. Harbhajan’s stellar performance against England in the recently concluded T20 World Cup and a thumb injury to Piyush Chawla have been stated as the main reasons behind his inclusion. The selections in the pace department offer a few enigmatic questions.
Firstly, the glaring absence of Ashok Dinda – the man who has been the backbone of the ‘Vijay Hazare Trophy holder’ Bengal bowling attack for the last few years, the man who has been received blandishments from legends ranging from Allan Donald to Sourav Ganguly, the man who has displayed traits of bowling searing pace picking up wickets and providing useful overs at the death in the shorter formats has been ignored for the Test squad once again. Why? Is there a surfeit of bowling resources with the Indian team at present? Surely NOT!
When the two pacers accompanying Umesh Yadav are Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan, then why is the colt from Bengal still not in the squad? Ishant’s comeback to Test cricket after almost a year has not been backed by strong performances in the domestic circuit; Zaheer’s fitness has been under severe scrutiny in recent times and even his performances in the recent past do not provide enough leeway to get an easy ticket to the national team, when bowlers like Ashok Dinda are still lying untested at the Test level. What is it then that is hurting Dinda’s chances to get into the Test team? A fast bowler ought to be given a look-in when he is at his peak; some of the best fast bowlers of the world like Dale Steyn and Bret Lee delivered their lethal best at very young ages. Dinda too, has been promising a lot for the past few years. In the absence of proper opportunities and mentoring though, the risk of attrition may run high. Such attrition of talent and capabilities has occurred to many in Indian cricket and sadly, Dinda’s prospects look bleak enough to be suffer from a similar fate in the near future.
There are plenty of questions here! In a squad of 15, 4 are opening batsmen – Sehwag , Gambhir , Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane. Does the opening slot really need so many contenders? Or is it just a covert strategy being employed by Dhoni to play around with the openers and give shape to his long-standing feud with the Sehwag-Gambhir duo, as he had done in the CB Series in Australia earlier this year, only to impart some more damage to a sagging team morale?
Perhaps the big worry for Indian cricket lies entrenched in the middle order. The big-wigs have already called it a day – the Laxman, Dravid era has slowly passed into oblivion and in its aftermath we have a motley of unsolved questions. The middle order now looks unkempt and inexperienced, with Kohli and Pujara still being fledgling replacements for the big boots of Laxman and Dravid. The consolidation of the middle order should have been a top-priority task for the selection panel and that has just been coldly neglected.
Yuvraj Singh has been picked to occupy the debatable No.6 spot, in view of his recent performances in the domestic arena. Is this really a wise move ? Selecting a ‘semi-fit’ Yuvraj, who perhaps has very little cricket left in him and lending a cold shoulder to Manoj Tiwary, who is a bright prospect for a permanent spot in the future Indian Test squad reeks of hollow logic and rationale. Manoj’s trailblazing 93, scored when India A recently played against England XI in a warm-up game had definitely given the selectors strong reasons to include the Bengal skipper in the national squad. But, as with Dinda, Manoj’s efforts were swept aside in a jiffy when he was excluded from the 15-member squad that actually consists of four openers and no additional quota of middle order batsmen!
The entire team selection drama actually reeks of a strange Bong conundrum – the cold neglect of the prospective talents from Bengal . Shall such neglect serve anything worthwhile to Indian cricket in the coming years?