Selectors face moment of reckoning
At the end of Friday's selection committee meeting, which will pick the Test and one-day teams for the tour of Bangladesh next month, one of two people will be facing some difficult questions. If the selectors name a largely unchanged team, Niranjan Shah, the secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, will have to explain what happened to the directive of the working committee instructing the selectors to pick a "young team". If major changes are effected, Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of selectors, will have to explain how he managed to find so many cricketers who fit the bill, having only recently said there was no "exceptional" talent in the country.
The biggest decisions revolve around the biggest players. While no selector would like to drop a player of Sachin Tendulkar's stature, it is entirely possible that Tendulkar can be persuaded to sit out the one-day leg of the Bangladesh series, given that India have such a packed schedule ahead. Apart from playing some 45 one-dayers and 15 Tests in the coming 12 months, there's also a Twenty20 World Cup to contend with. If Tendulkar needed to be convinced of the need for a break, and that the best time for that is this tour of Bangladesh, Ravi Shastri could be the man to do the job. Their relationship goes back many years and has stood the test of time. And there's no saying that Shastri has not had a quiet word with Tendulkar already.
What this will do is give the selectors some leverage to carry out more of their refurbishing, including leaving out Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag. There is some dissatisfaction with the manner in which Ganguly has made his runs in recent matches, and it is well known that Sehwag made it to the World Cup only because Dravid insisted on his inclusion. The two may merely be rested, not dropped, but that the selectors are considering even this represents a huge shift in thinking. It is also understood that members of board, and the selection committee, have expressed very serious concerns that some players in this team were too enamoured by their individual statistics and that this might have clouded them from seeing the team's larger goals.
One thing is clear - the selectors have a critical role to play, and the time may have come for some very tough decision-making. The five wise men, often criticised for their omissions and inclusions, are in an unenviable position, and are under pressure from different quarters.
For their part, senior officers of the BCCI claim that no pressure is being brought upon the selectors and that it is entirely up to them to pick the team. "We have already said what we have to. Now the ball is in the selectors' court, it's up to them to do what they see fit," a top official told Cricinfo. If that truly is the case, then the mettle of this selection committee will be tested. It's up to them to decide what direction Indian cricket takes and, with the captain of the team seen as being spineless, it's up to the selectors to decide whether they want to overhaul this team.
It is becoming obvious that a time will come in the not-too distant future when these 30-plus cricketers will give the game up. And when they do, fresh faces will have to be blooded. The sensible option would be to exercise choices when matters are still in one's hands, rather than be forced into a choice. In that light, it would not be a bad idea for Tiwary, even Rohit Sharma, and some others to be given a go. Similarly it's understood that if the selectors choose to give Harbhajan Singh a break they will give Piyush Chawla or Amit Mishra a break - though of a different kind. At his press conference soon after picking the 30 probables for the World Cup, Vengsarkar was asked why no legspinner had been included. "Can you name one legspinner?" Vengsarkar snapped back at the journalist. And tomorrow if they do pick Chawla, again the selectors will have some answering to do.
There's Rajesh Pawar, the left-arm spinner who was in the World Cup probables, coming off a good Ranji season where he picked up 36 wickets at 24.52. He'd be useful to have around the nets given the left-arm spinners Bangladesh have. There's also Murali Kartik, currently playing in England; he went out of the team through injury and hasn't found favour despite recovering fitness and form. Other names doing the rounds include that of Yousuf Pathan, brother of Irfan - who himself is set to make an exit. Yousuf hits the ball a long way, and his offspin has come along over the years. But it might be early days to pick him yet.
There's a rank outsider in Pankaj Singh, of Rajasthan, being spoken of highly in some quarters. Gautam Gambhir is also a strong contender for a spot, not only because Virender Sehwag is in hot water but also because of the fact that Bangladesh have three left-arm spinners in their bowling attack.
On the eve of a critical selection meeting, with an information overload on the grapevine, two opposite scenarios are equally plausible. But given the board's recent tough stance when it comes to the players, and their almost wholehearted backing of the captain, a cricket manager who thinks independently and a chairman of selectors who will not want to be known as a pushover, it should surprise no one if there are some wide-ranging changes in the one-day team.
Anand Vasu is associate editor of Cricinfo