May 17, 2001

15 cricketers pick themselves for tour of Zimbabwe

For a change there was no acrimony, no contentious decisions and no fireworks in an Indian selection committee meeting. Picking the team for the two-Test series to be played in Zimbabwe was an easy task. As predicted, five seamers, seven batsmen, two spinners and one stumper got the nod. The successful series that concluded recently against the touring Aussies made the job easy for Chandu Borde and company. With Sourav Ganguly and John Wright, the five selectors sat together for an hour at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore on Thursday and completed the formalities.

"Based on the conditions, we have decided to go in for five seamers," said Borde, justifying the inclusion of Delhi's Ashish Nehra and Orissa's Debashish Mohanty in addition to the trio of Javagal Srinath, Ajit Agarkar and Zaheer Khan. With 32 wickets in the series against Australia, Harbhajan Singh more than picked himself. The search for the Punjab offspinner's partner however ended with a familiar tune, "Keeping in mind the variety aspect, we decided to go in for a leg spinner," said Borde of Sairaj Bahutule's inclusion. Once again, spare a thought for Sarandeep Singh. After playing just one Test against Zimbabwe, where he picked up six wickets, the young offspinner has been completely overlooked.

In the batting department once again, there were no surprises. Rather, there was no room for any surprise. Skipper Sourav Ganguly, his deputy, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and the two openers Shiv Sunder Das and Sadagoppan Ramesh were always certainties. The one remaining spot went to Hemang Badani. The Tamil Nadu southpaw has impressed many with his consistency in one-dayers, and no one will grudge him his place in the squad of fifteen.

Some sections of the media have been highlighting the absence of a third opener in the preparatory camp. Once more, the chairman of the selection committee was quizzed on this and his reply was crisp and to the point. "With only two Tests and two warm up matches to be played, we thought it was unnecessary to take any reserve openers," said Borde who went on to add, "I have spoken to the captain about this. If someone is injured, Rahul Dravid will be used as a makeshift opener." That put all speculation to rest.

Ganguly's statement in the press a few days ago, ensured that Sameer Dighe would go to Zimbabwe. "He's our number one keeper," said Ganguly, and the selectors have borne him out. The secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India Jaywant Lele, also present at the press briefing, announced that the team for the one-day tri series would be picked at Mumbai in the second week of June. In all, the air was refreshingly different at the post meeting briefing. No one player's selection or omission gave room for serious disappointment. On a cordial note, Borde stepped out of the hall, remarking wryly "sometimes, you people (the media) seem to know the team composition even before us!"

The squad: Sourav Ganguly (capt), Rahul Dravid (v-capt), Sadagopan Ramesh, Shiv Sundar Das, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Sameer Dighe, Hemang Badani, Javagal Srinath, Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Sairaj Bahutule, Debashish Mohanty and Ashish Nehra. Coach: John Wright and Manager: Chetan Chauhan.