Jadhav in Tendulkar's treads
From all accounts, Dheeraj Jadhav is a fine prospect. A compact left-handed opening batsman, he has scored prolifically in domestic cricket, clocking nearly 2700 runs in first-class cricket at almost 60, and most recently has broken records for the fastest to 1000 runs for Egerton in the Lancashire League. But you have to ask whether his selection to the Indian team as replacement for Sachin Tendulkar, has anything to do with all that. When selectors pick an opening batsman to replace a middle-order batsman, ensuring that he is from the appropriate zone, you cannot help raise an eyebrow.
And you can't help wondering if this might just be Jadhav's first and last tour, for that has happened to so many people. They get picked, go on a tour, and return only to be forgotten. From a famous blooper like Noel David in 1997 to more recent cases like Ramesh Powar, Dinesh Mongia and Hemang Badani, there are enough names you can pull out of the hat. For all that you know, Jadhav may even be a better opening batsman than Gautam Gambhir, the incumbent. But he is unlikely to get a chance on this tour of Zimbabwe, being picked to replace a middle-order batsman. In all likelihood he will see a bit of the sights of Bulawayo and Harare, and return to Maharashtra, only to find that his name is not on the list by the time the next team is chosen. For then, the compromise may not be with west zone, and another quota candidate will go through. This does no one any good, least of all the player himself.
But it's not merely about the men who do the selecting - the system encourages the very worst of regionalism and zonal quotas. To be appointed selector, you must be nominated by your zone, and get a term of one year. At the end of that year, you can be nominated again, but this is in the hands of the zone that put you forward in the first place. This means you are under pressure all the while to get as many players from your zone selected.
Recently, after a selection meeting, one selector was spotted at a domestic game, telling players from his zone, "I'm sorry, I tried my best but I could not do anything." Not long ago, a selector from another zone asked one of my colleagues whether it would be possible to "tweak" some statistics from domestic cricket, to push one particular case. These things have happened for years, they continue to happen, and unless sweeping changes are made, will continue unchecked. For long it has been the worst-kept secret that fringe players in Indian cricket teams are picked, not on performance, but on other considerations.
One former selector, who obviously did not want to be named, told this correspondent that often, the whole team was picked before the actual selection meeting. He served at a time when the chairman of selectors was a man with strong, if occasionally eccentric views, and to ensure that he did not sour the plans, the other four met furtively - often in airport coffee shops at the city the where the selection meeting was to take place- and decided what adjustments needed to be made. Then it was a matter of going to the meeting and voting the right majorities for the right players.
In all this, though, it is very rare that an outrageous choice is made. Even the player being pushed by a certain selector, purely because the player is from the zone the selector represents, has merit. These are all first-class cricketers who have made their case through solid performances in domestic cricket. But, when you're giving east zone a medium-pacer so that north zone can get a batsman, you provide a different balance to the side - one of regional representation, not a complementing of skills.
And it's simply not good enough to say that enough good players have emerged from this very set-up, and therefore all is well. There will be situations when rotten processes throw up good results - history teaches us this. But that does not condone the process.
RP Singh's selection to the one-day team is another case in point. He's a good prospect - but at the moment merely that. A gentle left-arm seamer who has no firepower when the ball is not swinging, Singh will be the first to admit that he is not yet a bowler who can legitimately claim a place ahead of Lakshmipathy Balaji or Zaheer Khan. There are hints that Zaheer was left out because he needed to sort his attitude out - and perhaps a kick up the backside would help that -- but what wrong did Balaji do? He played one match in the Indian Oil Cup, went for 1-48 from 10 overs, and was dumped. Not long ago, he was one of your main bowlers, giving it his everything bowling into the wind, drilling long spells on unhelpful pitches.
Even forgetting Balaji, for a moment, which is atrocious, what of Gagandeep Singh and Shib Sankar Paul, who were in the squad when India went to Bangladesh and did not get a game? And Joginder Sharma who got a look in recently, or Amit Bhandari who went to Australia in 2003-04? Silly me, none of these are from central zone. Ah there's this chap from Uttar Pradesh who bowls left-arm seam ... what's his name again?
|India in Australia||2003-04||Sadagopan Ramesh, Deep Dasgupta|
|VB Series||2003-04||Amit Bhandari|
|India in Pakistan||2004||Ramesh Powar, Hemang Badani, Amit Bhandari|
|Videocon Cup in Netherlands||2004||Dinesh Karthik, Rohan Gavaskar|
|Champions Trophy||2004||Dinesh Kartick, Rohan Gavaskar|
|Australia in India||2004-05||(4th Test) Dheeraj Jadhav, Shib Sankar Paul|
|India in Bangladesh Tests||2004-05||Shib Sankar Paul, Gagandeep Singh|
|India in Bangladesh ODIs||2004-05||Sridharan Sriram, Joginder Sharma, Dinesh Mongia|
|Pakistan in India||2004-05||Sridharan Sriram (5th and 6th ODIs)|
|IndianOil Cup||2005||Jai P Yadav, Lakshmipathy Balaji|
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo