Nayan Mongia - Waiting in the wings, and in the dark
"Deep Dasgupta is just what the doctor ordered - a man who can bat with good temperament and keep wickets," said Arun Lal, commentating during the second Test against Zimbabwe at Delhi. Perhaps he can be forgiven for having a soft spot for the stumper from his state. But not too many people are willing to forgive Deep Dasgupta for his glovework in this series. What the doctor ordered, Mr. Lal, is what we saw at the Wanderers - Adam Gilchrist, shredding the cover off the ball in scoring the fastest ever Test double ton while pouching anything that went past the stumps. What Lal suggests bears strong resemblance to ordering the finest caviar and settling for a boiled egg sandwich.
With each passing day, proof against Dasgupta mounts - dropped catches, missed byes, the works. Bowlers moaned in despair as balls that should have reaped wickets raced away for runs. The first day of the second Test saw a Virender Sehwag off-break leap, rear, beat the bat and smack straight into the face of Dasgupta. When the keeper is not seeing the ball to the extent of being hit in the face, it is time to look for alternatives.
Chandu Borde, the chairman of the national selection committee, has always been a man who toys with keepers. His tryst with stumpers goes back as far as 1970-71, where he plumped for Hemant Kanitkar, who had last kept when he was in school, to keep wicket for Mumbai against the Rest of India in the Irani Trophy. As selector, he attempted to duplicate the feat, pulling Vikram Rathour out of the Punjab hat just before India took on Australia in 2000-01.
Just before Zimbabwe arrived on Indian soil, Ajay Ratra did the honours in the limited-overs matches against England. In the tour match against Zimbabwe, Andhra Pradesh's MSK Prasad was given the job, a fresh lease on life after a series in Australia in early 2000 that exposed every weakness of the lad. One must grant that Prasad has had a good season, leading South Zone to triumph in the Deodhar Trophy. The wise men deliberated... and Deep Dasgupta was picked.
Coach John Wright stayed well away from the controversy, offering only a cryptic comment. "I don't want to go into the selection matters, but at the end of the day, I would tell you, you should have your best keeper in the side," said Wright.
All this ruckus behind the stumps, when the best man for the job is wasting away in Baroda. Acknowledged the best stumper in the land by the proverbial mile, Nayan Mongia has the endorsement of, seemingly, everyone but the selectors. A key component of the Baroda team, Mongia made 29 in each innings on top of snaring seven dismissals as his team went past Punjab to enter the final of the Ranji Trophy. "My confidence and morale are very high. I am keeping well and have not lost touch at all," Mongia told CricInfo from his residence in Baroda.
It cannot be easy at all. Despite the collected voice and calm exterior, there is a quiver in the voice that gives away the frustration. "It is very, very disappointing for me to be out of the team. Playing for India means a lot to me, and obviously it is difficult to watch from the sidelines," Mongia, a man whom many thought would retain the mantle of number one keeper until he himself called it a day.
Despite the repeated failures of all the alternate keepers whom India have used, the selectors persist in turning a blind eye to Mongia. "Just what does he need to do to make it to the Indian team?" asked one former cricketer in frustration. "Well, I can only keep trying at the domestic level. I am fit and will keep working hard. The thought of playing for India keeps me going," said Mongia, betraying single-minded determination. "The Baroda team have been fully behind me all the way. I have the support of the whole team, and they wish only the best for me."
The support of the Baroda, team however, will get Mongia no closer to national selection. It is the selectors who really matter, and they have not bothered to even have a word with Mongia. "It is really up to the selectors to pick me. What more can I say? But I have received no communication whatsoever from them or the Board. I have no idea why I am not being considered or picked," said Mongia. It would take a remarkably heartless person to have no sympathy for this man.
Call it a mystery, call it an enigma - the end result is the same. "The main thing that makes me feel better is the fact that I have the support of the people. Wherever I go, people tell me that I am the best and that they miss me. Whether it is fans, some other cricketers or reporters, they know best, and they say they want to see me back," said Mongia, a touch more emotionally than one would expect.
Sadly, till the selectors come around, Nayan Mongia will remain a minister without a portfolio, a lawyer without a brief, a stumper without a team in dire need of his skills.