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November 28, 2002
Except for a couple of minor surprises the selection of the Indian team for the two Test series in New Zealand has been along predictable lines.
The first surprise involves the number of players making the trip. For a three-week tour, consisting of just two Tests, one first-class game and a limited overs match, one would think that 15 would have been enough instead of 16. This way, there is a distinct possibility that a player or two could return without playing a single game on the tour.
In this connection one recalls that even when India toured New Zealand in 1994, the team comprised only 15 players and that was a four-week long tour during which two first-class games, a Test match and four one-day internationals were played. And the number was again 15 on the last trip there four years ago when the fiveweek tour comprised two first-class matches and three Tests. Perhaps, the extra number is an insurance against the growing number of niggling injuries carried by players as a result of too much cricket.
Secondly, Indian spin bowlers have always done well in New Zealand from the spin quartet in the sixties and seventies to Dilip Doshi and Ravi Shastri in the 80s to Venkatpathy Raju, Anil Kumble and Rajesh Chauhan in the 90s. India, in fact, have never gone to New Zealand without less than three specialist spin bowlers in the squad. Even on the lightning tour in 1994 when only one Test match was played, Kumble, Raju and Chauhan were fielded and in 1998-99 the spin bowlers were Kumble, Harbhajan and Sunil Joshi.
Given this background one would have expected a third spinner preferably Sarandeep Singh - to get the nod unless the selectors are thinking in terms of Virender Sehwag being a serious spin alternative.
Yohannan has been the first reserve among the pace bowlers for some time now and his recall gives the Kerala bowler another opportunity to cement his place in the squad particularly with Srinath in the evening of his career.
I am happy that Shiv Sundar Das is back. Not too long ago, the diminutive Orissa batsman was strongly challenging Navjot Singh Sidhu for the tag of India's finest opener in the post-Gavaskar period. Since then he has been discarded rather prematurely. But even with the selectors plumping for Sanjay Bangar, there is little doubt that the need of the hour is a specialist opening batsman.
With his technical proficiency, Das, whose Test career average is still almost 35, fits the role admirably. One can only hope that he gets a chance in the Tests, for India could certainly do with his intense concentration and fierce determination at the top of the order.
The rest of the squad picked themselves but even among these players the performance of two or three will be watched with more than passing interest for they have either not exactly established themselves in the team or have been in indifferent form.
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