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India's Test selection
'I don't think there's a long-term plan with Ganguly'
November 30, 2006
The decision to include Ganguly in the Test side is surprising as he would have added more value to the ODI team
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The Indian team for the Test series in South Africa, announced on Thursday, raised eyebrows for two decisions: the inclusion of Sourav Ganguly and the appointment of VVS Laxman as vice-captain. Siddhartha Vaidyanathan speaks to Sanjay Manjrekar on the decisions, their fallout and the state of Indian cricket

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan: What do you make of the team that's been announced?

Sanjay Manjrekar: The selectors and the team management are under pressure because of the team's recent form. You may have certain beliefs and certain long-term plans but if the results aren't good there will be pressure, whether you are the selectors or part of the team management, to deviate from the plan. And that is what has happened. When Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid took charge they were looking to create the next generation of Indian players. But unfortunately those players didn't live up to expectations and then there was the need, because they weren't getting the results, to go back to the experienced players.

I think, as with most things in life, you do need a balance. I think there was a time when, perhaps, Chappell and Dravid looked too much towards youth and ignored experience and now they are going back to experience. Ganguly's inclusion was somewhat expected after the results that we have had. However, I am quite surprised that he has made it into the Test match team; I think Ganguly will be more valuable for India in one-day matches, opening the batting, and that could be in the home series and in the World Cup after that, if he performs well in the home series. I am a bit surprised that he has been chosen for the Test matches and I wonder if Sourav Ganguly would have preferred making his comeback in the Test matches in South Africa or in a one-day game in India.

SV: Coming specifically to the Ganguly issue, do you think that the selectors are looking at his role in this series in isolation, or do you think there is a plan to bring him back in the one-dayers and include him in the World Cup plans as well, considering India's poor batting performance of late?

SM: I don't think there is any long-term plan. We have to be practical and look at the situation. India has no patience with bad performers. We haven't performed well in the last couple of series, even in the West Indies we didn't do well and at the moment, you'll have selections to correct the situations at the present moment. I don't think there is any long-term plan with Ganguly.

He got some runs at the first-class level so he had to come back. Ideally, I would have liked to see him make a comeback in a one-day game. At this stage of his career, there's a question mark over how he will cope with the conditions in South Africa. It's just a question of having Ganguly back in the team, irrespective of whether it's the one-day team or the Test team; its about showing that they are willing to go back and get experience back into the team.

SV: Another big decision that was taken today was the appointment of VVS Laxman as the vice-captain of the test team, replacing Virender Sehwag. Is it a decision taken for this one tour particularly or is it also a chance for VVS to establish himself in the side and come back into the one-day format? What sort of a message does it send to Sehwag?

SM: That caught my attention, because one wonders if there was a need to change the vice-captain. I think it has come about because there is a strong feeling in the camp... they are willing to look at other players as well when it comes to seniority and responsibility.

So, taking the vice-captain mantle away from Sehwag is quite significant and it does show that they want to put some pressure on Sehwag. I'm sure it's an internal matter, it may be something about his commitment or just the way he's playing cricket; they want to do something that will help him re-focus and get him back to his best. I don't see any reason why they had to consciously take this decision; it wasn't an issue at all and doesn't make a difference to the Indian team. But it's purely to get Sehwag to re-focus.

SV: Where does all this leave Greg Chappell? He inherited this team a year and a half ago, he came in with new ideas, he implemented new methods, he tried to bring youth into the whole setup. Now the old guard returns; so where does the whole thing leave him?

SM: The recent report card doesn't look too good. But then you also have to be fair to Chappell and look at what kind of talent was available. When he gave youngsters a chance to succeed at the international level, the chances weren't taken by them. So is Chappell to be blamed for that? Has he left out certain players who would have completely changed India's fortunes around?

No, I think it begs for bigger questions to be asked. Is our current performance in South Africa because of team selection? Is it because of the coach? Or is it just India with limited ability in South African conditions? These are the questions that need to be answered. So, yes, Chappell's report card has not been good of late. But there are also bigger questions that are needed to be asked of our performances in South Africa and Chappell is not the only one who will be able to answer those, I think all of us involved with Indian cricket should feel responsible for this dip in India's performance.

SV: The point about the larger issue: A lot of names have been mentioned for non-performance, a lot of players wanting to come back. But the Indian batting over the last six months or so has disappointed - the quality of Indian batsmen coming from the first class level seems to be far from what is desired.

SM: We have seen this before, this is not the first time that this has happened. Unfortunately we don't stick to certain plans. Tours to South Africa and Australia have always exposed weaknesses in Indian cricket but have we consciously done anything to change those? The cricket industry has been created around matches; finally, it boils down to getting your team to be competitive in all conditions. To be maybe not the best team in the world, but at least in the top 3 - that is the vision that the BCCI should have. Tours like this expose the basic problem that Indian cricket has and all this has happened before.

I don't know whether this will change the moment India goes back and plays the home series against West Indies and Sri Lanka and starts winning one-day matches and all of us will feel everything is perfect with Indian cricket again. It has happened over the years and I get the feeling that it is not going to change. The pressure is on everybody involved with Indian cricket to get our team to be competitive in all conditions. It's high time, since 1986, we've not had a significant overseas series win against a major team. So we have a lot of work to do.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar

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