February 02, 2007

No way to treat outstanding young performers

By H Natarajan

It’s important that the selectors are not only fair but are seen to be fair. The axing of Joginder Singh after the Cuttack One-Day International against the West Indies is not only unfair but also detrimental to a player who has the potential to emerge as a quality all-rounder – something that this Indian team badly needs.

When a player is selected it’s important that he is made to feel wanted. He has to be given the assurance of getting at least two meaningful chances so that he does not play with the fear of the Damoclean sword hanging over his head. If the selectors felt that there is limited too many contenders and too little a time before picking the team for the World Cup, then it would have been in the best long-term interests of the country and the player to give him a recall.

Joginder was given just four overs. And it was not that he was frightfully expensive in those four overs – he conceded 16 runs. When a newcomer is given just four overs and then discarded unceremoniously, it gives rise to suspicion that something unpalatable is cooking behind the scenes.

Let us examine if there is any justification in such thinking. Zaheer Khan is a certainty on current form to make the World Cup squad. Sreesanth has been expensive in the two one-dayers he has played in the series against the West Indies, going for 79 runs at Nagpur and 67 runs in 8.4 overs at Chennai, but he has been outstanding in Tests and that should make him certain of winning a place in a side lacking in strike bowlers. Ajit Agarkar has also done enough to retain his place, more so with the World Cup in the Caribbean, where he outstanding on India’s tour there last year. There is just one remaining slot for a fast bowler with several contenders in the fray – Joginder Sharma, RP Singh, Munaf Patel, VRV Singh, Ishaant Sharma and Irfan Pathan.

RP Singh came up with consistent performances to be among the top five bowlers of the season with a tally of 33 wickets from six games. He forced his way back into the Indian team in the ongoing series against the West Indies but was shunted out without getting an opportunity to prove himself.

Joginder is the second highest wicket taker this Ranji season with a haul of 39 wickets at an average of 15.74. He twice took 10 wickets in the match and as many times five in an innings. But his joy of getting a recall into the national team was short-lived. No way to treat a talented young fast bowler who has the potential to be a quality all-rounder who could serve the country for a long time.

Joginder made an impact in his very first Ranji match in November 2002 when he hammered 81 batting at No 8 and then followed it up with 5 for 63 and 6 for 21 in 14 overs to shoot out Madhya Pradesh for a paltry 68. In 39 first class games so far he has scored four hundreds and taken 184 wickets with five wickets in an innings on 14 occasions – that is around once every three matches – and 10 wickets in the match five times.

Ishaant Sharma, 18, was also messed around with by the selectors. He was told to reinforce the Indian team in South Africa, but only to be told that he was not wanted at the eleventh hour.

Munaf Patel is recuperating on the sidelines and VRV Singh is not in the reckoning. That leaves the deck clear to help Pathan win the fourth fast bowling slot. Had RP Singh or Joginder done well in the matches against the West Indies, the selectors would have found themselves in a position from which to take tough decisions.

I have nothing against Pathan. In fact, I truly believe that he is one of the finest talents that the country has been blessed with in recent times. However, any encouragement to him should not be at the cost of another youngster who has done enough to merit a fair chance to prove himself at the highest level.

Another player whose worth has been undervalued by the selectors is Ramesh Powar. The Mumbai offie is a throwback to a different era when bowlers were unafraid to flight the ball. Powar’s flight and loop have consistently troubled batsmen from all countries. But despite the consistency and productive, he has played second fiddle to Harbhajan Singh.

Powar got 3 for 24 in eight overs to help India beat England in the only match he played in the Champions Trophy, but he had no place in the Indian team that toured South Africa that followed. Recalled for the current series against the West Indies, he came up with another three-wicket haul at Cuttack to bowl India again to victory. Yet, there this wide-spread belief that Powar could lose out to Harbhajan - he has not been in the best of form in recent times – when the selectors pick the squad for the World Cup.

The opening slot has been a bit of a worry in recent times. Which is why it was very satisfying to watch young Robin Uthappa flay the English attack at Indore last year. Despite a sparkling innings of 86 off 96 balls, he was dropped after just two more outings. Uthappa, like Joginder, came up with compelling and consistent performances in the Ranji Trophy games this season to ensure that the selectors could not ignore him any longer. The 21-year-old from Karnataka scored four hundreds and three half-centuries from seven games to amass 854 runs in the National Championship in the 2006-07 season. And in his very first outing on his international comeback, he smashed the Windies attack to pulp, scoring 70 off 41 balls.

The selectors would be keen to get back Virender Sehwag into the squad, but let us hope and pray it is not at the cost of Uthappa.

The likes of Uthappa, Joginder and RP Singh are the future of Indian cricket. And there is no way one can say that these youngsters have been treated fairly. It’s such treatment that destroys promising careers. It’s sad that the selectors who had much to gripe about selections in their playing days do exactly what the felt so strongly about!