Ganguly's inclusion in the Test squad November 23, 2005

Driven by sentiment

The time taken to deliberate on the squad to take on Sri Lanka said much about the different pressures at work on the selection committee



The selectors have opted for Sourav Ganguly out of emotion, but can he hold his place in this new team? © Getty Images

The time taken to deliberate on the squad to take on Sri Lanka said much about the different pressures at work on the selection committee. Eventually, the need to move on and forge a new direction for Indian cricket lost out to that great enemy of excellence: sentiment. Having stripped Sourav Ganguly of the Test captaincy and given it to the man best equipped to lead India, the five wise men couldn't find the strength to go the distance.

Ganguly's inclusion suggests that he is certain to play the first Test at Chennai, which means that both Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif will miss out. With Sachin Tendulkar back in the fray, the top four are locked in, leaving just two middle-order spots up for grabs. Since his breakthrough series against Australia in 2001, VVS Laxman has comfortably outperformed Ganguly - averaging 51.17 to his former captain's 36.23 - leaving the team management to pick one from Ganguly, Yuvraj and Kaif.

Given that he's no Jonty Rhodes in the field, we can safely assume that Ganguly wasn't selected for 12th-man duty. But by saying that he was selected as a batting allrounder, Kiran More has only ensured that his panel will be the butt of most cricketing jokes for some time to come. Ganguly has taken 25 wickets in his 84 Tests, and prior to taking two in two matches against South Africa last year, his last wicket had been way back in 2001, when he finished with figures of 2 for 69 at Kandy. To tag him an allrounder is almost as farcical as considering Mike Tyson a heavyweight contender.

Since a brilliant century at the Gabba in December 2003, Ganguly has made just 697 runs at 34.85 from 15 Tests, with his only century coming against a Zimbabwe team incapable of beating Kenya. In the same timeframe, Yuvraj and Kaif have played just 10 Tests between them, averaging 34.88 and 30.60 from seven and three matches respectively.

Those figures reveal nothing of the circumstances though. After scoring a fabulous hundred in a crisis situation at Lahore in April 2004, Yuvraj was shunted up to open the innings against a formidable Australian attack, and his failure used as a convenient excuse to sideline him. Kaif's three Tests included two fighting half-centuries against McGrath, Gillespie and Warne - the finest array of bowlers to visit India since the West Indian pace quartet in 1983-84.

Both men have done little wrong in the one-day matches played this season, and while limited-overs form is no criteria for Test selection, there's no doubt that both are ready for bigger challenges. With a rejuvenated Pakistan and a strong England looming on the horizon, a Sri Lankan attack dependent on Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas would have offered ideal preparation.

The big positive to emerge from the meeting was the inclusion of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, almost inevitable given his purple patch with the bat in ODIs. Dinesh Karthik, unlike Parthiv Patel before him, did very little wrong, but the thrilling possibilities offered by Dhoni's bat were too much to ignore.

RP Singh's steady and incisive displays with the ball have also been rewarded with a Test berth, and those who point to Zaheer Khan's haul in the Duleep Trophy while whispering of vendettas clearly haven't taken the trouble to peruse his Test figures. Since a five-wicket haul in helpful conditions in the first innings at Brisbane in December 2003, Zaheer managed 29 wickets in 13 Tests at an average of 44.13. If that's the stuff that spearheads are made of, then a pillow is a lethal weapon.

All those issues though will be obscured in the coming days by the Ganguly saga. Just how will he slot back in as one of the boys? And more importantly, how will he get along with Greg Chappell, who appears intent on taking the team in a particular direction in tandem with Rahul Dravid? His selection is clearly recognition of services rendered, but only his bat can answer whether he deserves such consideration. Patience, as the ebullient Michael Clarke discovered this week, is finite.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo