February 21, 2000

Azhar's recall a retrograde step

S Jagadish

The recall of Md Azharuddin and Nayan Mongia to the Test was always on the cards following the disaster `Down Under'. However Sachin Tendulkar's decision to step down after the Tests was totally unexpected. Effectively the inclusion of Azharuddin in team has given Indian cricket followers the impression that the reserves aren't good enough. But is the impression correct?

Apart from the old guard of Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Srinath, Kumble and Prasad, the rest of the side in Australia had a total experience of around 40 Tests. Effectively the squad's selection was such that one or two test rookies were being thrust into a tough tour which involved Tests against the best side in the world and a one-day series along with the two World Cup finalists. To expect such a side to come out of the tour unscathed was too much to ask for.

The selectors erred by not trying out the youngsters for a longer duration prior to the Australian tour. India played a number of one-day matches (at venues from Toronto to Singapore) after the World Cup.

The new players who went to Australia would have been in the selectors' lists for a while after the disappointing showing at the World Cup. Players like Kumaran, Gandhi, Harbhajan and Bharadwaj were hardly given enough opportunities before the Australian tour. It was always going to be too much to expect them to perform at international standards. So this inexperienced team went to Australia and got beaten black and blue.

Predictably the calls went out for the reinstatement of Azharuddin, Jadeja and Mongia in the side. Jadeja has never been a Test quality player. Mongia's exclusion for the Australian series was a blunder of the highest order. Which brings us to the Most Favoured Man of the moment - Azharuddin. By recalling Azharuddin, the selectors have shown that they do not have faith in the abilities of the younger batsmen. Four of the five selectors have been international cricketers and it perhaps wasn't as obvious to them as it is to me that it is absolutely impossible to expect a world class performance from someone who has played a Test or two, especially against a world beating side like Australia.

Now that Azharuddin has been recalled for the first Test, it will be interesting to see what the selectors will do if he fails. Will they retain him for the second? If he fails, will he then be dropped like a hot potato and never discussed again at selection committee meetings? If he succeeds, will he retain his place in the side for a while or will he retire having played his 100 Tests? Is Azhar retaining his place in the side the best thing at the moment for Indian cricket? For how much longer will the selectors shy away from taking decisions which take Indian cricket forward?