Champions Trophy 2013 June 24, 2013

India's tough selection policies bear fruit

The Champions Trophy win is an important landmark in India's rebuilding effort, and credit must be extended to the team's selection committee that has been unafraid of taking a few tough decisions

When you saw India jubilant in England after winning the Champions Trophy, you couldn't help but go back to the second day of the Kolkata Test last year, against the same opponents. England ended that day at 216 for 1, a day that summed up everything that was wrong with Indian cricket: lacklustre bowlers, poor catching, fielders who didn't want to be there and probably - as a consequence of these factors - a defensive captain. Cruelly, that day, the team management sent Trevor Penney, the fielding coach, for the press conference.

Penney had no explanation for India's poor fielding. Rather, he didn't have an explanation he could speak publicly about. The team was carrying at least four players whose contributions in their first discipline had long ago begun to pale in comparison with their poor fielding. And then there was R Ashwin, who had lost form, or patience. While Ashwin's issue was personal, and he has addressed it with aplomb, the other rot was systemic. And it won't be unfair to believe that - yet again - amid the debris in Kolkata, India began a turnaround.

Only this time it began in a selection committee meeting. And this panel led by Sandeep Patil has clearly shown that the scorn heaped on Kris Srikkanth and Co was earned and deserved. One by one, they dropped, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, in that order. Look at the replacements. M Vijay has scored more Test centuries in one series than Sehwag did in two years. Shikhar Dhawan outdid in one Test Gambhir's achievements over the last three years. Debatably Yuvraj's ODI place went to Ravindra Jadeja, and the results are for all to see. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has not let India miss Zaheer yet, although that arrangement could change.

The obvious question that will arise is: if it was that simple, why didn't the team management ring in the changes? They had the reserves in the squad. First, it wasn't that simple. While improvement was guaranteed - it was scarcely possible to do worse than the outgoing players - such a huge improvement has been surprising. More importantly, though, the captain just can't drop seniors in India, or in many other teams.

Call it the team management's weakness, call it a cultural weakness, call it whatever, but the Indian team management had time and again made it clear that if the underperforming players were part of the squad, they would be part of the playing XI too. All four of the players dropped - despite their poor record - were part of the playing XIs before they were dropped altogether. Zaheer and Yuvraj played the Kolkata Test, which is when the selectors met. Gambhir played the last Test of the series, and was only dropped after it. Sehwag played on until the mid-series selection in the next series.

Only once had MS Dhoni tried to disturb the apple cart when he decided during the 2012 CB series in Australia that Sehwag, Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar could not be part of the same playing XI because that meant giving the opposition a headstart of 20 runs. Clearly it was not well received. Sehwag, who never really opens up in press conferences, chose to selectively give out details from the team meeting. There was bad blood. Dhoni was criticised for looking ahead, and he didn't have any backing from the selectors.

India must enjoy this, and they will, but the ultimate test awaits when they begin touring away for Tests, at the end of this year. That will tell you for sure what the real progress has been. However, this combine of team management and selectors has already done better than the previous leadership, in that they have tried to stop that treadmill of defeat.

Earlier on that tour, when India lost every Test with the same set of batsmen batting in the same sequence, the touring selectors enquired with the team management if they had given thought to leaving out VVS Laxman who had been faring poorly in particular. They were told squarely that the selectors would have to do that. And the selectors weren't going to touch the seniors. Somebody needed to make the unpopular calls, and Patil's group has begun to do so. It's not as if the previous selectors didn't have reason to make changes; India had lost eight away Tests in a row.

Dhoni's refusal to disturb the status quo had another ugly side. The previous selection committee knew there would be little room for a new player in the XI even if they selected him in the squad. It came to head when - bizarrely - India selected a 15-man squad with just six batsmen for the Nagpur Test against South Africa in 2010. One of those six was uncapped, and had not found his way into the XI previously. It was clear the captain's hand was being forced here.

How it backfired. One of the six fell ill, his last-minute replacement injured himself just before the toss, and Wriddhiman Saha had to make Test debut as a specialist batsman. The chairman of that selection committee is now a paid expert on a TV channel, and questions Dhoni's captaincy even though he did nothing about it when he was in a position to do so. Dhoni's captaincy is an issue for another day.

Crucially, now, the selectors have decided to make the calls that will not be liked. They were criticised for dropping Yuvraj for the Champions Trophy, arguably India's biggest match-winner in ODIs after Tendulkar and before Dhoni. The selectors, though, looked at just the performance: 181 runs in the last 10 ODIs, and not at the peak of his fitness.

Consequently, for the first time possibly since India began rebuilding under Sourav Ganguly and John Wright, they had a squad of 15 that were at their best fitness. Ashwin made up for his slowness with some good slip-catching. Ishant Sharma is never short of effort, and Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar kept themselves inconspicuous in the field, which was a job well done. Thirteen of the 15 had earned their places with performances in either recent international cricket or domestic matches. Rohit Sharma and Ishant were picked because of a lack of alternatives, but they were not what you would call blind prayers. Patil and team can afford themselves a quiet pat on their backs.

India can't afford to get ahead of themselves. They must enjoy this, and they will, but the ultimate test awaits when they begin touring away for Tests, at the end of this year. That will tell you for sure what the real progress has been. However, this combine of team management and selectors has already done better than the previous leadership, in that they have tried to stop that treadmill of defeat. Not trying to do so was the most frustrating part of India's poor show from July 2011 to January 2013.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • yadava on June 28, 2013, 8:22 GMT

    @mathewjohn2176.When u say captain as good as team... why captain is not bad when team is bad!!! When WK batsman scores hundred they say he is one of the best and when failed we cant expect from him. When team win its captain i feel who takes the most of the credit and when lost its players to take the blame.. That's how its going. On finding out alternative one got a chance

  • mathew on June 27, 2013, 10:59 GMT

    @Aniyadu,Entire indian team failed in overseas tour especially the experienced batting unit .Dhoni is a WK batsmen and expecting him to score like top 5 batsmen is ridiculous.Captain is as good as the team and this team failed to cross even 300 runs once in England and Australia,So expecting a captain to miracle is impossible.I don't think so even ganguly couldn't have done any better.During ganguly captaincy time,the batsmen like dravid,sachin,laxman scored buckets of runs and Kumble took many wickets,thus resulted the winning cause.So selectors knows captain alone is not responsible for that debacle and there was no alternate for dhoni during that time.Now youngsters are coming and let the transition carry forward and dhoni doing good at the moment with youngsters.You can wait for more time to reserve your judgment on this transition time.Only in ODIs he stressed for good fielders and this clearly showed in this CT win.

  • Shajahan on June 27, 2013, 10:35 GMT

    I could see more comments about "replace Karthik with Yuvraj". I accept Yuva is great player than Karthik but...

    Did Selectors and Dhoni not know that? Please don't see past records. look at recent runs and forms. Could Yuvi help PWI atleast 1 match in last IPL? According the the new ODI rules (max 4 fielder on the boundary line), Do you all think that Yuvi and Gambir will fit to dive and run! They can not run NOW A DAYS to chase a ball. Yuvi's laziness and Gambir's running always keep them down.

    Karthik was given out for doubtful LBW for most of the times in Srilanka / WestIndies some years ago where total team India failed. This time Karthik used UDRS and he is alive, else again umpires would have spoiled his future again.

  • Sathyanarayan on June 27, 2013, 9:00 GMT

    This selection committee under Mr. Sandeep Patil has done noteworthy job by boldly selecting a new crop of untested youth. But there is another point, that Dhoni was retained in spite of the drubbing we received in England and Australia. Due credit has to be given for that decision since he could have been made an easy scapegoat for a collective failure. What is Mr. Mohinder Amarnath upto these days? Again some were baying for Coach's head. It would be unfair, improper and illogical for blaming one individual for the bad performance of the whole team of 15 individuals.

  • yadava on June 27, 2013, 8:22 GMT

    @mathewjohn2176.. As you talking about the test series against AUS and ENG.. I believe its whole team which failed. There were few guys who scored less than seniors. Including captain whole team failed!! why only blaming seniors for that can you explain why after loosing 8-0 captain was not dethroned or why captain he didn't responsibility other than blaming seniors for fielding effort. It all in the game . Fielding was never our plus in tests at least. i hope opportunity for some other guys should as test captain

  • uncle bob on June 26, 2013, 20:15 GMT

    Posted by Shekhar Ascendant King on (June 26, 2013, 5:10 GMT) Very well said. I totally agree with you. One funny thing gangully supporter say is that" gangully instilled aggressiveness in the team". Which team? Dhoni's team is brand new and they dont inherit anything from Gangully. Likes of Virat are born aggressive and Dhoni himself is a fearless warrior these guys dont need and inherited anything from timid Gangully who called sick to avoid facing fast bowlers.

  • Dummy4 on June 26, 2013, 16:00 GMT

    @alarky Thank you for pointing out. Even though I am a big fan of Sachin, I think its time for him to go. I never thought I would say this but he has been burden on the team more than anybody else. IF he had retired after disastrous Australian tour he would have sent strong message to every other senior member(read Sehwag, Gambhir, Zaheer, Harbhajan) in the team that nobody is above the Game itself. But he sent wrong message that anybody can hang-on till they enjoy playing rather than performing. Only God knows why did he chose to play those 10 Odis after the WC . He should have retired after WC 2011. More over not moving from no.4 position in the test team even when your opener is injured is just simply ridiculous. You may be a senior member in the team but what message you are sending to youngsters in the team? I think Dravid would have been a perfect guide to this young team if they need a senior member in the team. Humble, hardworking, unselfish and dedicated. Cricinfo pls publish.

  • RAJASEKHAR on June 26, 2013, 14:37 GMT

    Great job by selectors by dropping Sachin...we cannot come to a conclusion on opening pair...they are yet to show their mettle on off shore pithces like SA n Aus.,not sure Sikhar can make us forget the exploits of Sehwag...

  • John on June 26, 2013, 13:21 GMT

    What unpopular choices did the selectors make? I dont see any controversial selection of the Indian team. Its the Captains job to select the Playing XI and who he wants to bat at what order. Rohit Sharma was promoted by Dhoni to open in place of Murali Vijay who is Dhoni's team mate in CSK. He persisted with Ishant Sharma and UT Yadav despite some bad bowling by them. So what was the selector's role in the playing XI which contributed to the victory in CT?

  • mathew on June 26, 2013, 12:48 GMT

    @Aniyadu, First thing Dravid retired by his own as he knew that his form in Australia test series was not good.Second thing ,when you drop senior players for team improvement doesn't indicate that captain is disrespecting the players.This the main problem with Indian fans that they don't want to drop their star players eventhough they play poor cricket thought out the tournament.One part you are questioning dhoni away test record and then you are questioning the captain for senior players retirement when their contribution is minimum in those away test losses ? So you want to back up the aged experienced players and lose more series ? Under dhoni captaincy,india levelled a test series in SA for the first time.Ganguly 6 out of 11 away wins came against 3 Bangladesh and 3 Zimbabwe in contrast to dhoni 1 win away against Bangladesh. Ganguly and dhoni have both 5 wins away against other opponents.So captain job is to look after the improvement of team and performances not the star players.