September 2, 2000

Selectors flatter to deceive yet again

Selectors have a bit of a thankless job. They have to make decisions that will always be examined closely from all quarters. Even before the Indian selectors began their meeting on Saturday, newspapers and web sites carried previews and comment pieces. The fact that there are five selectors from five different zones make it all the more difficult. With each selector pushing his own case, things can get hairy. And today they almost did. Waiting outside the room where the selectors were engaged in discussion, one could hear the sounds of voices being raised every now and then.

We have no idea what happened behind closed doors. What we do know is the fact that a rather mixed bunch has been selected to attend the preparatory camp. On the face of it, the list of 23 cricketers looks a balanced one. On closer examination there are many holes. Firstly, Chandu Borde, chairman of selectors claims they picked a side with "the 2003 World Cup in mind." Perhaps he should take a look at some of the cricketers picked - Vinod Kambli, Venkatesh Prasad, Anil Kumble, Sunil Joshi, Robin Singh. How likely is it that any of the above cricketers will be fit and raring to go in three years time?

The second issue that deserves closer attention is the fact that the squad of 23 has eight medium pacers, three wicket keepers and yet no off spinner. Surely, the land of Ghulam Ahmed, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan can throw up at least one off spinner. Borde thinks not. "Frankly, we don't have any quality off spinners," he said. One hopes that Aashish Kapoor is not sitting with his family, enjoying his dinner and watching the news on television when Borde utters these words for the camera. It surely will break his heart to hear someone talk so low about his craft. In the last Ranji Trophy season, Kapoor picked up 50 wickets. Fifty wickets in a Ranji Trophy season is not something that happens very often. In 66 years of the competition, there have been just 11 occasions when a bowler has taken 50 or more wickets in a season. Only one person has done it twice and surprisingly, that person bowls off spin. Kanwaljit Singh, who has been completely ignored by the selectors, holds this record. As many cricketers would testify, sometimes picking 50 wickets in a Ranji season is not enough to convince the selectors.

This assorted bunch that the selectors have picked contains three wicket keepers. Certainly only one of them will make it to the final 14. Ajay Ratra is very young and is yet to prove himself even at the Ranji level. The selectors are very unlikely to find it in their hearts to send this boy away to do battle with the likes of Australia, Pakistan and South Africa. The toss up will then be between Reuben Paul and Vijay Dahiya. Although this might mean that Reuben Paul can sleep a little easy, one will not be entirely surprised if Dahiya gets the nod ahead of him. What would certainly be a travesty of justice however, is asking Rahul Dravid to don the gloves. It's something he does reluctantly. With his batting form being nothing to write about in the last few international encounters he has played, this will only add more pressure.

Of the eight medium pacers in the squad, one would expect Ajit Agarkar, Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh to pick themselves. That leaves us with Zaheer Khan, Reetinder Singh Sodhi, Amit Bhandari, Debashish Mohanty and Thirunavukarasu Kumaran. After the bashing he suffered at the hands of Pakistan in the Asia Cup at Dhaka, it is difficult to see Kumaran being picked. Zaheer Khan is quick enough to trouble batsmen. However, he might lose out to Bhandari in the end.

At the end of the day, the lads from the NCA might have to wait just a bit longer before they take the field for India in a limited overs international.