And now reservations in Indian cricket team?
By H Natarajan
An opinion piece that appeared a few days back in the newspapers made interesting read. What raised eyebrows was the following passage in the column: “…the noises emanating from the Indian camp are not encouraging to those aspiring to be in the squad for the World Cup. Sure these matches (against the West Indies and Sri Lanka) have to be won, but the bigger picture should always be the World Cup. And unless these games are used to give the men in form the chance to show their skills and temperament, how is one to know how good they are?”
The man expressing the doubts about the selections in India’s ongoing four-match ODI series against the West Indies and the four one-dayers that follows against Sri Lanka is not an average fan on the street. He is an itinerant mediaperson, but more than that he is venerated authority on cricket with close and meaningful links with the Board of Control for Cricket in India. The man is none other than Sunil Gavaskar.
Gavaskar’s revelation in his syndicated column was a shocker. He went on to add: “Even as (Virender) Sehwag and (Irfan) Pathan have been dropped, they are being told that they will be in the squad for the World Cup.”
Sunny rightly opined, “What it says is that even if the others who are the replacements do well, they will not be selected. That is a wrong message.”
For a while now, there is a growing suspicion – and quite justified at that – among the masses that certain players are given an unduly long rope while others, not in that exalted position, are quick to get the axe.
Let’s take the case of Wasim Jaffer. The Mumbai opener got a duck on his ODI debut at Durban. But it was a match in which only three Indian batsmen got into double figures – Tendulkar (35), Dravid (18) and Dhoni (14). The Indian innings lasted just 29.1 overs for a paltry total of 91. Jaffer was promptly dropped for the next game at Cape Town. He was, however, recalled for the 4th ODI at Port Elizabeth where he got 10 runs. But this ODI was yet another disaster for the Indian team where the highest score of the top six specialist batsman was 26.
A few days later, Jaffer found that after being good enough to be in the Indian eleven he had no place in the 30 for the World Cup. Certainly there was inadequate data to judge Jaffer’s worth in the limited opportunities he got in the one-dayers. And while there can be no comparison between Tests and one-dayers, the fact remains that Jaffer scored Test hundreds on back-to-back overseas assignments – 212 in West Indies and 116 in South Africa. It’s worth noting that amid the batting shambles, he was the only Indian batsman to score a hundred on the tour of South Africa. The least that could have been done is to keep him in the 30, if not the 15 in the matches ahead of the World Cup.
The opening slot continues to have an unsettled look to it. Where was the need to split the Sachin Tendulkar-Sourav Ganguly opening combination? Their track record speaks for itself. The two senior pros are the most prolific in overs-limit history, having opened together in 117 ODIs, scoring over 5600 runs and 16 centuries at an average of nearly 49. Not only they made bowlers life miserable with their aggression, but the left-right combination made difficult for the bowlers to settle down to a desirable length. But at Nagpur and Cuttack Gautam Gambhir opened with Ganguly – a left-left combine – pushing Tendulkar down the order.
Now, this not only breaking one of the best opening partnerships in ODI history, it also means demoting Tendulkar to a position where he has been far less successful. While batting between numbers three and seven, Tendulkar has averaged just over 31 in 105 ODIs. Let’s further crunch the numbers. He batted at No 3 in 10 ODIs at No 3 for an average of 10.11. At No 4, he batted in 55 ODIs and averaged 38.29. He came out to bat at No 5, on 36 occasions and average 28.46. At No 6, he figured in three ODIs at 30.33 and at No 7, once for an average of 20. Those numbers stand in sharp contrast to his achievements as an opener: 262 ODIs, 11,731 runs, 37 hundreds 56 fifties, average of 48.28.
Gambhir seized the first available opportunity to stake his claims as an opener, though he flopped at Cuttack. Robin Uthappa has been an outstanding success in this season’s domestic circuit. He forced his way back into the national scoring 854 runs (65.69 average) from seven Ranji games with four hundreds. Uthappa, too, is an opener. And he awaiting his opportunity in the reserves. It would be delivering justice a huge blow if he is unable to find a place in the final 15 without getting an opportunity to prove himself in the playing eleven.
An in-form Sehwag is a match-winner, but he has batted himself out of the reckoning with scores of 9, 8, 1, 10 in the DLF Cup, 9, 17, 65 in the Champions Trophy and 0, 18 and 11 in the ODIs in South Africa. The team management and the selectors may still be keen to squeeze him in the final 15 for the World Cup, but at this point of time it would be more in hope than on his current form. And such a move may well be at the cost of a more deserving candidate.
One of the biggest problems with Indian cricket over the years is its inability to take tough decisions when it comes to dropping it prima donnas. It’s a problem that has been there even in the playing days of the present selection committee chairman and earlier, too. The illogical approach has meant putting the interests of the individual ahead of the country and has cost the India dearly.
Compare that with the Australian approach, as an example. It was just the other day Adam Gilchrist said that his country is ready to make the "hard call" in dropping a non-performing senior player in the lead-up to the World Cup. Take over the captaincy in the absence of Ricky Ponting, Gilchrist said: "There's absolutely no doubt that the selectors and team management, if the hard call had to be made throughout the tournament on one of the more experienced players, they would make it," And I don't want to just single out Glenn (McGrath). Whether it's a batsman or a keeper-batsman, that call will be made, there's no doubt about it. It's not a farewell tour for Glenn. Everyone's aware of that and no-one more so than Glenn….Inevitably, everyone is starting to scrutinize his performances and all the senior guys as we start to get a bit older."
The hosannas for McGrath are over. Pragmatism takes precedence over sentiments. It’s now only performance that counts. And McGrath has to prove that he is worthy if he has to earn a place on merit – the sole factor that matters in Australian cricket and one of the reasons why its side is the numero uno team.
India has to learn taking hard decisions.