April 22, 2001

Three newcomers in Indian probables for Zimbabwe tour

There were few surprises in the list of 25 probables for India's forthcoming tour of Zimbabwe which Board secretary JY Lele announced at the Gujarat State Fertilizer Corporation ground in Baroda on Sunday. Only three of them have not represented India before in either Tests or ODIs: medium pacer Rakesh Patel and rookie wicket keepers Ajay Ratra and Deep Dasgupta. Amongst the probables are three protagonists from the ongoing Ranji Trophy final: Zaheer Khan and Rakesh Patel from Baroda and Harvinder Singh from Railways.

Chairman of selectors Chandu Borde and his four colleagues Madan Lal, Ashok Malhotra, TA Sekhar and Sanjay Jagdale conferred with Indian skipper Saurav Ganguly before exercising their verdict. The squad includes seven medium pacers, four spinners, three wicket keepers and eleven batsmen, many of whom can bowl to varying degrees of proficiency. The only major hiccup was the exclusion of both Nayan Mongia and Vijay Dahiya. In their absence Samir Dighe is pitchforked into the hot seat as India's No.1 wicket keeper. Coach John Wright indicated after the series against Australia that the Indian team needed players with 'attitude' like Dighe. The 32-year-old Mumbai skipper's brief but spunky knock in the climactic stages of the Chennai Test doubtless sealed the vote in his favour.

He will however have two young pretenders breathing down his neck at the preparatory camp. Haryana's Ajay Ratra is fairly well known for his exploits at the junior level. Earlier this year he skippered the India Under-19s to victory over their English counterparts in both the Test and one-day series. But Bengal's Deep Dasgupta is still something of an unknown quantity. Dasgupta, 23, began his first class career as a specialist opening batsman and struck a century on debut in the Super League against Baroda at the Eden Gardens in 1998/99. Next season he took additional custody of the keeper's job but flitted in and out of the side until finally shaking off the shadow of veteran Saba Karim.

Nine of the 11 batsmen operate in the middle order, leaving no reserve opener apart from Ramesh and Das who were not entirely convincing in the Test series against Australia. While the pair need to be persisted for the moment, it would have been ideal to have someone pushing them like Baroda's Satyajit Parab who struck four centuries in the Ranji Trophy this season, the highest by any batsman.

The preponderance of seamers is in accordance with the hard, grassy wickets expected in Zimbabwe but contrary to general impression, India's spinners have received plenty of purchase on two previous tours of Zimbabwe. In two one-off Tests India played in Harare, 16 of the 34 Zimbabwean scalps fell to the slow bowlers. Three of the four spinners from the third Test squad at Chennai are retained while Rahul Sanghvi gets an opportunity to resurrect his career, having been harshly jettisoned after the pipeopener in Mumbai where Saurav Ganguly gave him ten overs in five spells, in which he took two wickets.

Of the quicker bowlers, Rakesh Patel, lively and industrious, collected 34 wickets in the Ranji season. But for a knee injury which severely curtailed his participation in the final he might have ended up as the highest wicket taker in the competition. Harvinder Singh who played two Tests against Australia in 1997/98 is slightly luckier to earn a recall; although he bowled well in bursts his presence seems more a token concession to the emergence of Railways as a domestic power. A better choice would have been Yere Goud whose unruffled temperament is admirably suited to the demands of Test cricket; the 29 year old tops the Ranji aggregate this season with 898 runs going into the final day. Indeed only one of the top 56 run getters in the Ranji Trophy figures in the probables: Dinesh Mongia who finished 28th in the final standings. It makes one wonder whether domestic performances really count.

Separate teams are likely to be chosen from the probables for the Test and one-day legs of the tour. India begin their engagements with two three day warm-up games, followed by two Test matches, and wind up with a triangular one-day series also involving the West Indies. A five day camp for the probables will kick off in Bangalore from May 13 and the final team is to be announced on May 18.

The probables: Saurav Ganguly (captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sadagopan Ramesh, Shiv Sunder Das, Hemang Badani, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Shewag, Dinesh Mongia, Mohammed Kaif, Sameer Dighe, Ajay Ratra, Deep Dasgupta, Javagal Srinath, Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Debashis Mohanty, Ashish Nehra, Rakesh Patel, Harvinder Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Sarandeep Singh, Sairaj Bahutule and Rahul Sanghvi.