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The selectors have put their faith in youth and must now see that vision through, regardless of immediate results
January 20, 2008
How inconsiderate of the Indian selectors to deflect the attention from a glorious Test win to the triviality of choosing a team for that utter irrelevance known as the CB Series. But the wheel must move on, and the selectors have decided to move on too. There is no place for Sourav Ganguly in the side, no recall for Rahul Dravid and not even a thought for VVS Laxman. Sachin Tendulkar remains the only link with the past but then, after all, he is Sachin Tendulkar. And he has been India's best batsman in one-day cricket in the last year.
There are two ways of looking at the selection. One, it can be described as a brave march towards the future with a firm eye on the World Cup in 2011. Not many of the golden brigade of India's batsmen are expected to last that long, and the time to build is now. And from all indications available, the selection has the enthusiastic support of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the man expected to lead India towards that future. A man entrusted with one of the most challenging jobs in world cricket deserves the support of the selectors at the beginning of his tenure.
One thing can be said about the team that has been picked. It will not be lacking in energy and spring on the field, a noticeable difference between India and Australia in the ongoing Test series. They will field significantly better and run harder between the wickets. The difference could be as much 30 runs, often the margin between victory and defeat. There will be public reactions to the omissions of the big names but selection is a tough job in which popular sentiment should never be a factor.
The other view is that a balance must be maintained between building for the future and safeguarding the present. Should the phasing out be a gradual process or a one-stroke blow? Is a tour of Australia the right place to throw the young guns into the cauldron? Could a mix of youth and experience have been managed? Would it not have been preferable to keep back a couple of the batsmen who have familiarised themselves with the conditions in Australia to provide a cushion for the new ones to ease in?
It is apparent that, barring Tendulkar, the selectors have more or less sought to graduate the team that won the ICC World Twenty20 into the one-day arena. It might seem a logical step forward at one level, but it is also naïve to assume that the skills required in the shortest form of the game can be automatically transferred to the 50-over version. It's another level and it requires a different set of skills.
The gulf isn't quite as large as it is between Tests and ODIs but there is a gulf nevertheless. One-day cricket provides the space and scope for construction of an innings that needs to be paced to match the tempo of the game; it requires at times for the batsman to see off a spell, bat through tough periods and, most importantly, hold his nerve for a longer duration. The immediate reaction to the team chosen to battle Australia and Sri Lanka is that the batting resources are thin both on pedigree and experience.
|Having bitten the bullet, the selectors must show strength and resilience to stick by their vision. If they have chosen a team for the future, they must not abandon it on the basis of immediate results|
Let's look at the possible order. It is likely that Virender Sehwag, who has shown glimpses of recapturing his form, will open with Tendulkar; Yuvraj Singh, despite his abysmal showing in the Tests, will bat at number four; and Dhoni will bat at six. Which leaves numbers three, five and seven. Three and five are vital positions, occupied at various times by Dravid. Against Australia, and with Brett Lee in sublime form, an early wicket is always a possibility, and it is hard to pick out a batsman from the squad who has the technical proficiency and the temperament to weather an early storm. Ricky Ponting bats at number three for Australia, Kumar Sangakkara for Sri Lanka, Jacques Kallis for South Africa and Ian Bell for England. Somehow, it is difficult to visualise Gautam Gambhir in that league.
Suresh Raina is a welcome addition to the squad. He has the gift of being able to hit the ball in the right areas and is perhaps the best fielder in the team, and has fought his way back into the limelight after being dumped. But does he have the composure to hold a chase together from number five?
Of course, the best way to find this out is to plunge them into the challenge. Having bitten the bullet, the selectors must show strength and resilience to stick by their vision. If they have chosen a team for the future, they must not abandon it on the basis of immediate results. Quite likely this team will lose and perhaps lose badly. But if the selectors consider this to be the nucleus of the team that will represent India at the next World Cup, they must allow them to grow and learn from their failure. Otherwise, it will be going neither here nor there.
© ESPN EMEA Ltd.
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