December 30, 1999

Few surprise changes in Indian squad for tri series

Sameer Dighe, who reportedly was the tour management's first choice as a replacement for the injured MSK Prasad earlier this month, finally gets his chance to represent India. The 31-year-old Mumbai stumper who can also open the batting has been included in the 15 man squad to play in the tri series one day competition involving Australia and Pakistan, which commences `Down Under' on January 9.

Dighe was with the India A team in the West Indies when the tour management was said to have asked for him. But Nayan Mongia was sent instead, leading to an unhappy period for the experienced India stumper. He played one first class game in Hobart and then with MSK Prasad being fit, Mongia who got the distinct feeling that he was unwanted by the tour management, came back to India, downcast and distraught.

However with Prasad not exactly covering himself with glory, Dighe has been named in the Indian squad. He is one of five changes made from the team currently on duty in Australia. The others are Nikhil Chopra, Robin Singh, Jacob Martin and Sunil Joshi. Those dropped are Vijay Bhardwaj, T Kumaran, VVS Laxman, MSK Prasad and Harbhajan Singh.

The changes generally reflect the transition from the longer game to the one day game. For the players included are one day specialists. Joshi, Robin Singh and Chopra were predictable choices. Baroda's Jacob Martin, who played with modest success in the DMC Cup in Toronto, was tipped to make a comeback. And after the team management had reportedly asked for Dighe, it was always on the cards that he would get the nod.

There are no real surprises among those omitted. Bhardwaj had made a name for himself in his international career of a few months as a one day specialist but on Australian wickets he was clearly like a fish out of water. Harbhajan Singh was an absolute failure and Laxman does not have the one day credentials. Prasad's keeping was certainly not up to the mark.

The unlucky player is probably Kumaran. One of the quintet of seam bowlers had to be omitted and it was just his misfortune that the axe had to fall on Kumaran. The Tamil Nadu medium pacer started well on the tour of Australia. Despite being picked as a reserve opening bowler, he seemed to have done well enough to merit a place in the Test side. With the tour selectors deciding to strengthen their batting by including Agarkar, Kumaran could not get a look in and now he has been dropped. One hopes this is not the end of his all too brief international career and he does not go the way of Vivek Razdan and Salil Ankola.

Another player to suffer misfortune is Sadagopan Ramesh. But for his injured thumb, he would have kept his place in the one day squad for he has also done fairly well in the limited overs game. On the other hand, Devang Gandhi is a bit fortunate to be retained for he too has not found the faster and bouncer Australian wickets to his liking. In any case, it is difficult to see how he can be accommodated in the playing eleven.

The first choice 12 is likely to be: Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Dighe, Robin, Kanitkar, Srinath, Kumble, Venkatesh Prasad, Sunil Joshi, Agarkar, Mohanty. Should the selectors decide to play a third spinner, then Chopra takes the place of Mohanty (or Agarkar). Martin is at best a reserve middle order bat. With Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dighe as opening batsmen, it is difficult to see how Gandhi can find a place, given the fact that his faulty technique has been exposed badly on Australian pitches.

Finally, by deciding against including Md Azharuddin, the selectors have sent another signal to the former Indian captain. But it is doubtful whether he will see it. He will no doubt still be hoping for a recall for the series against South Africa in February by which time he will enter his 38th year.

The squad: Sachin Tendulkar (captain), Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Devang Gandhi, Sameer Dighe (WK), Jacob Martin, Robin Singh, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Javagal Srinath, Anil Kumble, Ajit Agarkar, Venkatesh Prasad, Sunil Joshi, Nikhil Chopra and Debasis Mohanty