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Anand Vasu in Mumbai
April 18, 2007
Rahul Dravid cracked a half-century, playing some well-timed shots, and Karnataka came closer to qualifying for the final of the Twenty20 championships as they brushed aside Orissa by a margin of 44 runs, but India's captain will have more on his mind than giving the ball an almighty whack. In less than two days Dravid has to sit down with India's selectors, and their new cricket manager, Ravi Shastri, to pick the Indian team for the tour of Bangladesh.
The selectors' job is not made easier by the fact that they are watching domestic cricketers in Twenty20 cricket and looking to select a Test and one-day team. It's hard to see how much can be read from performances in this frenetic and rather lacklustre tournament. On the one hand it gives teams the chance to blood youngsters who may not otherwise have got a look in. On the other, it thrusts cricketers who are nowhere near mature into a form of the game that can be punishing, and not afford them the time to put the right habits in place early on.
There are two broad strains of whispers, relating to the selectors' thought process, doing the rounds. One school of thought believes that, barring Rahul Dravid, none of the senior Indian cricketers who were in the World Cup squad are certainties. The other believes that the change, if any, will be cosmetic. As is so often the case in Indian cricket, the truth is somewhere in between.
The selectors have a tough balancing act to perform, with the working committee of the Board of Control for Cricket in India announcing publicly that it had asked them to pick a "young team" under an experienced captain for the tour. This was interpreted in some quarters as a move to drop Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and usher in the next generation of Indian cricketers.
However, despite the likes of Manoj Tiwary and Rohit Sharma being touted as certainties, it's almost impossible to see the selectors making wholesale changes to this team. If they are to drop Ganguly, who has been criticised for his slow scoring in recent one-dayers, then they will be forced also to seriously consider the selection of Sehwag and Tendulkar. In all this there still remains one unknown, and that is Shastri.
The selectors may have their ideas, and Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of this panel holds strong opinions, but they will have to work with what Shastri and Dravid want.
The concerns for this committee are larger than they seem. This is a team in transition, and the problem is not so much with the personnel but what they are doing. The time has come for the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh to take their game to the next level. They have not taken their game to the level expected or shown the leadership and responsibility that was called for. To expect Dravid, Ganguly and Tendulkar, all on the wrong side of 30 and with more than a decade of international cricket already under the belt, to be the custodians of the team's fortunes going forward may be asking too much.
But, as Vengsarkar has indicated in the past, there is little "exceptional talent" in domestic cricket. It is not as though there are strong contenders pushing for places in the national team. The lack of spinners is a real worry, and needs to be addressed, with Anil Kumble retiring from one-day cricket and Harbhajan playing more of a restrictive role than one of a spinner leading an attack. There's Ramesh Powar, who is an automatic selection, but whether he has it in him to lead the attack - he has bowled well when a Kumble or a Harbhajan has tied one end down - remains to be seen. Whether Murali Kartik has done enough to win a recall is an issue the selectors must address. They also have to find someone to fill the role that Irfan Pathan once played, with bat and ball.
So, it's not so much of a question of who will be picked, and who will not make the cut, but whether the selectors and the team management are on the same wavelength. While the selectors, appointed by the board, may not be averse to making some drastic changes, the team management will be more keen to see how they can fix the problems they have with existing personnel.
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