'Home series next year key to World Cup selection' - Raju
Venkatapathy Raju, the former Indian left-arm spinner who's currently the south zone representative in the national selection committee, has said that the eight matches to be played early in 2007 will hold the key to selecting the World Cup squad. He also confirmed that VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly were in the scheme of things as far as one-dayers were concerned.
India are scheduled to play two home series in early 2007, against West Indies in January and Sri Lanka the next month. "Those eight games will be a blessing in disguise for them [players] and also for us [selectors]," Raju said in Mysore during the Ranji Trophy match between Karnataka and Haryana. "We can see actual form before selecting the team for the World Cup. We would play the core for the World Cup team there."
Raju didn't rule out the possibility of Laxman and Ganguly being part of the World Cup squad, adding that performance remained the only criterion. "They have three Test matches, let's see how they go about that," he said. "We have still not picked any probables for the World Cup. So if they perform well, they will be in the scheme of things."
India's line-up, he agreed, was far from settled, and the selectors and team management needed to sort out the issue. "Expectations are high but judging them on the performance in South Africa won't be right," he continued. "Players like Suresh Raina and Mohammad Kaif have been playing more one-day games. There was not much time to work on their technique of for them to run in to form as we have so many non-stop ODI games. We can't be harsh on them. Now they have a chance to play in domestic cricket and to prove their form in those eight games early next year."
The case of Subramaniam Badrinath, the Tamil Nadu batsman who'd managed to score consistently yet missed out on the Test side to South Africa, was one of inexperience, Raju said. "It won't be fair to put someone like Badri straightaway into a tough tour like South Africa," he said. "There is only one side game; the main players will play them. If one of them gets injured then Badrinath will have to straightaway play in a Test and I don't think we would be doing justice to him. There is so much cricket coming up after World Cup. We will monitor the performances of the domestic players closely."
Raju believed a bowling coach could assist in the development of India's young fast bowlers. "It might be helpful as there are a few young fast bowlers in the team. Someone like Sreesanth can benefit a lot. The talent is there and it can be guided and moulded well. The team benefited by a bowling coach when they toured Australia [Bruce Reid was the coach then]."
Raju also said he believed that the Indian board was very keen on improving domestic cricket, including revamping the Duleep Trophy. "We had a very good meeting with Sharad Pawar. He was asking about domestic pitches. The focus was on producing sporting wickets and teams playing on neutral venues which would stop the tampering of the pitches. So we plan to revamp the pitches right from the Under-19 level."
"It was suggested [in the meeting] that the Duleep Trophy can be advanced and played in South India, where the season starts early. We can play them on good wickets prepared by good curators. We are looking at forming a pitch committee with the likes of Daljit Singh. They can go around the country and help improve the quality of the pitches. The problem with the pitches in India is that we either prepare really spinning tracks or those that are too seamer-friendly. Neither is good. We need a wicket with bounce which will aid both spin and seam. Like the one in Mohali in the Australia v India in Champions Trophy."
Sriram Veera is editorial assistant of Cricinfo