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Strange are the ways of selectors

By Faisal Shariff
May 29, 2003 08:51 IST
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It's been a promising weekend for cricket. Though England dominated every minute of a Lord's Test match against a hapless Zimbabwe coping with the loss of its star batsman and former captain Andy Flower, the West Indies broke Australia's winning streak of 21 one-day internationals.

But nothing much seems to have changed back home in India. Thus, a bizarre selection process has resulted in an India 'A' side for the tour of England starting June 22 that raises quite a few questions.

Sadagoppan RameshThe squad comprises nine batsmen -- four of them openers -- six bowlers and a wicket-keeper. But -- surprise surprise! -- India's most successful opener in the last three years, Tamil Nadu's Sadagoppan Ramesh, finds no place among those four.

Compared to the openers selected -- Orissa's Shiv Sunder Das, Delhi's Gautam Gambhir, Mumbai's Wasim Jaffer and Baroda's Satyajit Parab -- Ramesh has the best track record in both versions of the game at the international level. He has scored half-centuries -- all outside India -- against five Test-playing countries (Pakistan, England, Zimbabwe, Australia and the West Indies) in limited overs internationals and has three half-centuries against Pakistan in Tests besides two centuries against Sri Lanka and New Zealand. And his last Test score was 55, that too outside India (against Sri Lanka).

If current form is the bone of contention, Ramesh's 647 runs in 11 first-class games at 40.43 with four fifties this season should take care of it. Sure, he does not figure among the top 20 run-getters in the domestic season. But he has scored consistently through the season and, more importantly, when it has mattered for his side.

On the other hand, Das, who has been chosen to lead the side, had a highest score of 35 in the last 10 Test innings he played in the Caribbean last May.

India coach John Wright, however, believes Das is one of the prime candidates for the opener's slot on the all-important tour of Australia later this year. Given that, and the selection committee's conscious decision to have two sets of openers, one experienced and the other fresh, it came down to a contest between Jaffer and Ramesh, with the former's performances in the West Indies last year tilting the balance in his favour.

Then there's Sridharan Sriram, the Tamil Nadu middle order batsman. True, Sriram has had a terrific first-class season, scoring 1,057 runs at 66.06 in the same number of innings as Ramesh. But against international attacks in the six one-dayers he has played so far, his scores are 12, 0, 6, did not bat, 1* and 2. This against attacks like Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka at home. Several current India players believe he isn't cut out for the international scene, like so many other domestic stalwarts before him.Rohan Gavaskar

Or take the case of Rohan Gavaskar. His first-class season has been nothing if not mediocre, with 489 runs in 18 innings at an average of 32.6. Even the largely unknown Ritesh Jaiswal of Tripura has a better average (41.5) and more runs (706) than Gavaskar, Jr. Yet, the latter gets yet another chance to stake a claim for the national colours.

Or consider even the team's vice-captain Hemang Badani, another Tamil Nadu middle-order batsman. Badani hasn't scored a fifty in his last 15 one-day international innings. Yet, he too gets another chance to make a bid for a place in the senior side.

Indeed, these omissions and inclusions make you wonder what is the single most important criterion for selection to the India 'A' team -- belonging to the right zone at the right time, scoring truckloads of runs at home without taking into account the quality of the opposition, or the family name.

Of course, if the last condition is true, having the surname Bahutule isn't going to be of much help. With 62 wickets in 13 matches at an average of 17.2, Mumbai legspinner Sairaj Bahutule has easily been one of the top performers on the domestic circuit this season. What more can you ask of a player before you give him a chance for the next level?

Sairaj BahutuleOkay, you may say Bahutule is not quite a youngster anymore, having turned 30 in January this year. But then Karnataka's Vijay Bharadwaj is no spring chicken either. In fact, he hasn't set the domestic scene alight with his batting, nor is he a specialist spin bowler. What's more, he has conceded more runs than he has scored in international cricket! Yet, he makes it to the squad as an all-rounder!

"Will Vijay Bharadwaj and Rohan Gavaskar ever play for India? The answer is no," one of the selectors later said candidly. "So why deprive some other deserving candidate for your own gain? But then, majority wins in Indian cricket!"

Another casualty of such strange selection policies has been Delhi off-spinner Sarandeep Singh. The only man who can replace Harbhajan Singh in the national side was not considered good enough even for the India 'A' squad!

Likewise, Haryana's Ajay Ratra must count himself as probably the most unfortunate wicketkeeper in India. With 'keeping skills that are better than those of most other stumpers in the country and a Test century overseas to boot, it is rather unfair that he is not considered even for the 'A' side now, with chairman of selectors Brijesh Patel brushing aside all arguments for a second 'keeper on a tour that is going to last almost two months.

The selector quoted above said he had warned his fellow selectors against giving in too much to zonal pressures. "Thoda bahut chalta hai. Itna mat karo. (A little bit is okay, don't overdo it)," he remarked.

"These 'A' tours are learning experiences for raw talented boys," he said. "I would have liked to see Siddharth Trivedi from Gujarat on the trip. He is fast, raw and would have learnt a lot."

If only the entire panel had had a similar understanding of their role.

Welcome to the party and good luck, Sandeep Patil!

The 16-member team:

Shiv Sunder Das (Orissa, captain)

Hemang Badani (Tamil Nadu, vice-captain)

Wasim Jaffer (Mumbai)

Gautam Gambhir (Delhi)

Satyajit Parab (Baroda)

Sridharan Sriram (Tamil Nadu)

Ambati T Rayudu (Andhra Pradesh)

Rohan Gavaskar (Bengal)

Vijay Bharadwaj (Karnataka)

L Balaji (Tamil Nadu)

Avishkar Salvi (Mumbai)

Irfan Pathan (Baroda)

Amit Bhandari (Delhi)

Murali Kartik (Railways)

Parthiv Patel (Gujarat)

Amit Mishra (Haryana)

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