Selections pose more questions than answers
The sight of Kris Srikkanth, the outgoing chairman of selectors, rattling off incoherent sentences and either not respecting or not taking questions around the logic of selections is all too common. On Friday afternoon, he said he was doing so for the last time as his term comes to an end, and for one last time he left a bizarre selection unexplained. Before the meeting, the fans were all interested in seeing how the selectors respond to the eight straight overseas Test defeats and whether they look to late 2013 and 2014 when India tour South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia, but the Indian selectors gave it all a farcical turn with strange picks for the reserves.
There were legitimate questions and anticipation in the fan's mind. Will the selectors deem Virender Sehwag good enough to open on the four away tours come late 2013 (his average on his last four tours to those countries is 24, 28, 10 and 26 respectively) and risk a new opener in those conditions should he fail? Or will they try him in the middle order now that there are going to be vacancies? Is VVS Laxman going to make it to 2014? If not, how long will he be picked? Laxman has had only one really miserable series and merits a place in the side, especially with Rahul Dravid just retired, but will the selectors give out any pointers to the future? Does Zaheer Khan look good to go on till those away tours?
And yet, the team sheets rolled out were such that you forgot all those big questions and started to try and get your head around other selections. And no, Yuvraj Singh's comeback is not the inexplicable one. On surface it might seem like an emotional move, considering he has not proved match fitness yet, but this is also a calculated risk. Before the World Twenty20, there are two T20s against New Zealand, and before that there is the Buchi Babu tournament. So if things don't go to plan, Yuvraj can be replaced for the big one, but if he is fit there is no need to restate the kind of matchwinner he can be on the big day.
It's the other picks that leave you flummoxed. What, for example, has Piyush Chawla done to earn both a Test and T20 recall? Is there any phantom tournament you have missed and only the selectors have watched? An average of 40 in the last Ranji Trophy, and an average of 26 and economy-rate of 7.35 in the last IPL, didn't exactly dare the selectors to not pick him. He wasn't even considered good enough for India A's last tour.
It's interesting to look at the two spinners who have been pushed out because of Chawla's return. It seems there is more than cricket to the sudden exclusion of Rahul Sharma from both the Test and T20 side. Last checked his bounce and accuracy had everybody impressed. Now he is nowhere to be seen. If this is disciplinary action for the alleged positive dope test at a party, the BCCI will be better off to say so.
And what of Pragyan Ojha then? He can take the ball away from the right-hand batsmen too, he has been more impressive in IPL, he has done well in home Tests, his stats after limited opportunities in limited-overs internationals are not bad (economy rates of 4.46 and 6.28 in ODIs and T20Is), but for some reason in the game of musical chairs being played among the Indian spinners, Ojha is often the man standing up when the music stops.
It is true that selection is not based on stats alone, but India have already burnt their fingers with a similar punt on Chawla in the last year's 50-over World Cup. A much more understandable yet surprising punt is Harbhajan Singh, who brings with him experience, proven combative qualities and decent containment role during the Twenty20 leagues. And while we are at it, if Rahul is indeed being disciplined and if you were told there were only two Test spinners left in India - Chawla and Harbhajan - who'd you rather go with? A similarly understandable gamble is L Balaji, who went for 5.4 an over in the IPL, but Praveen Kumar's absence continues to confound.
The last time Chawla was picked for India, Rohit Sharma was primed for a place in the World Cup squad and had to make way. Rohit doesn't lose out on his World Cup place this time, but he has been denied the Test bench he warmed with such frustration in Australia, coming desperately close to a debut. Granted he has failed in ODIs in Sri Lanka, but how does it earn him a T20 reward and cost him a Test place? Suresh Raina, on the other hand, has played his role in late middle order in ODIs commendably, but has he done enough since he was dropped from Tests last year to allay the concerns against Raina the Test batsman?
Ishant Sharma, who bucked the trend of picking IPL over internationals and underwent ankle surgery, has yet to prove his match fitness but is back in the Test squad. Unlike Yuvraj, Ishant will hardly get any opportunity to do so before the first Test begins on August 23. This is a selection coming from a committee that had vowed to make proven fitness a non-negotiable after the debacle in England last year.
And guess who is back as vice-captain of the T20 side? Gautam Gambhir, who lost that slot for unexplained reasons after Australia, has now somehow usurped Virat Kohli, who was the vice-captain until the recently concluded tour of Sri Lanka. The Test side continues to be without one.
Srikkanth, though, as the chairman and the public face of the selection committee, doesn't have the time to throw more light on these selections. "I'm in a rush," he says. The BCCI could just as well not announce the team, and let people find out on the day of the match.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo