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If all the gambles pay off, and India triumph at Nagpur, it will be hailed as a masterstroke on the part of the selectors and the team management.
February 23, 2006
If all the gambles pay off, and India triumph at Nagpur, it will be hailed as a masterstroke on the part of the selectors and the team management. Should it go pear-shaped, however, and the recriminations will begin in right earnest. Sourav Ganguly's omission from the Test squad wouldn't have been so much of a surprise if Yuvraj Singh - in such imperious form of late - had been fit. But with Yuvraj nursing a torn hamstring, the decision to go with an off-colour Mohammad Kaif and an uncapped Suresh Raina is bravery bordering on folly.
Ganguly won many admirers for the manner in which he batted at Karachi. With his career possibly on the line, he literally sweated bullets over the two innings. Ultimately though, a middle-order batsman needs to deliver more than 30s and 40s, and had he been asked to make way for Yuvraj - with Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman taking the other middle-order berths - there would have been few complaints.
The other compromise mooted was never on. Ganguly was an all-time great opening batsman in one-day cricket, but the idea of him fronting up to the new ball in Tests was never a realistic one, even less so against an English pace attack that has now displaced Australia's as the game's most lethal strike force. The makeshift-opener theory didn't work on a lively pitch at the National Stadium, and both Dravid and Greg Chappell had suggested afterwards that such tinkering wouldn't be entertained in the future - not when it meant playing the world's most consistent No.3 batsman out of position.
Kaif did little in the one Test he played against Sri Lanka, and even less in the one-day series in Pakistan. But his half-centuries against a mighty Australian side back in 2004 have clearly lingered in the memory, and this is his chance to prove to critics that those displays weren't an aberration in a limited Test career characterised by underachievement.
Whether he gets the opportunity remains to be seen. Raina is 19, and the flavour of the month - a spectacular fielder, and a batsman whose off-side strokeplay at Multan evoked memories of Ganguly in his pomp. Chappell believes that Raina has it in him to be one of the game's greats, and a series against England will be as tough an introduction as any. If he fails, one can only hope that the experience doesn't scar him.
Wasim Jaffer deserved an opportunity given his domestic form, and the promise that he showed against a lively Pakistan A line-up in a tour game. But like many others before him, the transition to the biggest stage has been a tough one. Gautam Gambhir paid the price for one failure too many, and Jaffer will need to be on his game straight away to avoid a similar fate.
It's all change too on the bowling front, with both Ajit Agarkar and Zaheer Khan making way for S Sreesanth and Vikram Raj Vir Singh. Agarkar simply ran out of chances, while Zaheer can count himself a touch unlucky after a fine spell or two in thankless conditions at Faisalabad. Given the sameness of the left-arm pace attack though, it comes as no surprise, after Rudra Pratap Singh and Irfan Pathan have outperformed him in recent times.
Sreesanth was impressive at times in the ODIs against Pakistan, moving the ball out at a fair clip and creating plenty of chances for the slip cordon. At Test level though, with the emphasis on endurance and guile, it remains to be seen if he has the nous to make the same sort of impact. The same could be said of Vikram, who has yet to play even a one-dayer.
Piyush Chawla's inclusion was also expected, given that it's time India started to plan for a future without Anil Kumble. While the master is still around, the undoubtedly talented apprentice will learn much from training and net sessions, and also from personal interaction. If he can imbibe even half of Kumble's work ethic and desire for success, India will have one heck of a bowler to look forward to.
Few will be talking of Chawla tomorrow though. The decision to leave Ganguly out will dominate all cricket talk for a few days yet, and if India slip up at Nagpur, the snowballs of dissent will become an avalanche. Seldom can a long kiss goodnight have lingered so long.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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