February 12, 2010

The curious cases of Raina and Saha

One is yet to prove his first-class credentials, the other did not get a chance to prove his skills behind the stumps in Nagpur

For a better part of its tenure, this Indian selection committee, like good umpires and obedient children, has neither been seen nor heard. That is a good thing. The desire to rush to the media is a sign of insecurity. This committee, like its predecessor, has rarely done anything outrageous. Except for dropping Rahul Dravid after a successful recall, it has done a good job. Hence my concern over two rather bizarre selections this week.

That does not include the selection of VVS Laxman. In fact I believe it was right to pick him for Nagpur if there was a decent chance of him turning up fit on the morning of the game. They provided cover for him by asking Rohit Sharma to stay back, and while you might argue with the choice of Sharma, you cannot with the idea. You cannot budget for someone hobbling out 15 minutes before a game because he was playing football. That happens but some good might still come out of it. The team might stop playing football and touch rugby and such allied nonsense before a game.

But I was very confused with the selection, and the dropping, of Wriddhiman Saha. He was an unusual choice, to be honest, but one that I suspect was dictated by a degree of disappointment with Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel as wicketkeepers. It was clear that Saha was picked as a back-up keeper, since he is not yet in the league of Karthik or Patel as a batsman. Not having seen Saha keep this year, I thought it was only fair to go with the selectors' assessment, though I was quite happy that the trend of picking batsmen-keepers was being reversed. Over five days, the better keeper plays; over a day or three hours, the batting skills might acquire greater weight.

But in Nagpur we didn't see Saha keep. He batted with some pluck in one of the two innings, but that was irrelevant if the original intent was to pick the best back-up keeper. Now in the week between the dropping of Karthik and his eventual re-selection, he made 333 runs in a Duleep Trophy final but I am not sure anyone knew more about him as a keeper than they did when he was actually left out. So we need to ask the question: has Karthik been picked as a reserve keeper or as a reserve batsman who can keep if needed? And if it's the former, what has changed in a week? Confused? You have a right to be.

In domestic cricket, players are told to knock the selectors' door down with sheer numbers. Raina's was, at best, a feeble knock. He should eat his cake very quickly for fear that it was delivered to the wrong address

But Saha's loss was Suresh Raina's gain. As a one-day batsman, he earns his place in the side on the weight of performance. But in any game longer than a day, those performances start to get thinner. In domestic cricket, players are told to knock the selectors' door down with sheer numbers. Raina's was, at best, a feeble knock. He should eat his cake very quickly for fear that it was delivered to the wrong address!

In seven first-class innings this season he has scored 292 runs at 41.71, with no century. In a year of heavy run-getting, those are ordinary numbers and he has been comfortably out-batted by many peers. Virat Kohli averages 86 from seven innings with 138 runs more; Cheteshwar Pujara has 741 from 10 innings at 82.33; and Manish Pandey has 882 from 16 innings at 59 with four centuries. And these are stats of only middle-order players. Abhinav Mukund, Ajinkya Rahane and Patel have pretty impressive numbers as well. Experience might have been a factor. Raina has played a lot of international cricket and there is something to be said about feeling comfortable in that environment. In which case Kohli, who has shown great maturity at the crease, should have got the nod. And while Raina is one of India's cleanest strikers and a good finisher in a limited-overs game, his relationship with the short-pitched ball is marked by discomfort. If the bowler is at the top of his run, Raina will not look forward to a bouncer from him. Indeed, part of the reason India had to go back to Dravid for the Champions Trophy was that the new generation, the Rainas and the Rohits, found the short ball a little too hot to handle. It is also a length the South African bowlers don't mind.

But Raina and Saha are only sub-plots. Neither can solve the graver problem: one of taking 20 wickets. It is far more important than an appeal to the ICC over the Feroz Shah Kotla.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shamit on February 13, 2010, 21:15 GMT

    I think Manish Pandey could have been picked ahead of Raina, as he could be the surprise package against the South Africans. Harsha, I also agree with you 200% on the fact that Virat Kohli should have also got a look in. I'm very sure that Kohli would negotiate the short-pitched bowling from South Africa much better than Raina. I feel that Raina should not be debuting in a crunch game, in which we desperately need to win to retain our No. 1 spot in Test Cricket.

  • D on February 13, 2010, 18:23 GMT

    Selection of Raina that too to face Dale Steyn is a bit of joke. Raina has no clue on playing quality pace, if he bats at No 3 it will be laughable to say the least. Slogging 6's in T20 doesnt mean he is a phenomenon. The biggest worry is the selctors are not looking at a select list of 4-5 batsmen who will succeed Dravid, Laxman and Tendulkar. We will be facing a scenario soon in batting similar to what Australia had in the mid 80's when many greats suddenly left the game. Simpson and Border decided then that Steve Waugh, David Boon, Geoff Marsh and Dean Jones will be the batting strength for the next 10 yrs we desperately need thinking like that. In our case especially it applies to the bowling- who are our test bowlers for the next 7-10 years??? Why do we keep playing spinners who dont take wickets?

  • Waseem on February 13, 2010, 18:03 GMT

    I'm glad you mentioned Abhinav Mukund's name. Did anyone notice the brilliant 263 odd runs he made? I dont even see him in the Chennai Super Kings squad. Selectors - Hello? Are you listening? Maybe its some kind of idea where they preserve him for the longer version. But without giving him a chance, how long do you think he should prove himself? Do a quick check and see how many have scored a two fifty plus score in that tournament and that too at that age. Its time he got the chance he deserves.

  • Ameya on February 13, 2010, 15:38 GMT

    I was very happy with the selection of Saha. simply because he is keeper and a natural keeper. Dinesh Karthik for me can at best be a keeper for India in ODIs and Tests. As for Rains, it's a decision which at best has come because of need for left hander in the team. Yet, i am not sure anything other than runs and the importance of runs can count for your selection. I feel Pujara should have been in the side just for the number of runs he scores. The first 7 should be GG, VS, MV, SRT, VVS, SB MSD. The ballers ZK, SS, HS (looked awfull in Nagpur), AM.

  • Mohan R on February 13, 2010, 13:40 GMT

    Harsha has rightly pointed out that the wicket keeper Saha was dropped because of his non performance as a batsman but not as a keeper.The selection was more tougher in the first test.The management also did not pick the right team either.That was another case.Surely the selectors has missed to make a point.Abhishek Nayar was in full flow and full of confidence when he played against South Africa in the two day warm up match.When the player is in good touch he must be picked and Pujara must also have been selected.And now I feel that they have sent wrong signals to others that the playing eleven(including Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman)are the only class players left in the country.

  • Parth on February 13, 2010, 10:20 GMT

    Ref: Globalcricketlover. The reality is Sachin plays for records. The only person who should have been on that tour is Rahul Dravid as he doesn't play ODI's and can guide the middle order. So you are right. As far as regionalism goes yes Tushar is correct. Pujara has scored more runs and scored more often in tough situations than other player on the domestic circuit. Secondly his average is more then Vijays not to mention he is a former player U-19's world cup player of the tournament. His mettle is proven ahead of Rohit Sharma and Murali Vijay. The class with which he plays is ahead of Badris. Unfortunately Dhoni and the selectors are bias and this bias rings through. Let's hope Pujara makes the team before the likes of Dravid and Tendulkar retire. He would be a handy no.3 in the future. He used to open for U-19's then played at No.3 when needed. Best batsmen to come out of that batch that played the 2006 WC.

  • Gaurav on February 13, 2010, 10:19 GMT

    i think Raina is a very good choice.He has proved himself in the ODIs.he can destroy any bowling attack like sehwag.India has the choice to play him at No.3 or No. 5. He can unsettle the likes of Harris and there is nothing like he has problem playing against likes of styen or Morkel.he is around in international era for quite a long time now,so can be more fruitfull than Badrinath,who has lot of pressure on him to perform,after getting chance after so long.

  • g on February 13, 2010, 7:58 GMT

    Deviating from this topic a bit, but can someone justify why big names like Sachin, Dravid and Laxman touring Bangladesh? while there is a dire need for grooming people to rise to their level when they retire? Had all three of them (or atleast a subset of them) been rested for Bangladesh wouldn't we be having a much stronger/fitter pool to face sides like SA? i think those top players are selfish to leave out a scoring oppotunity against minnows. How wise are the selectors not to have thought about long term success? had they give 2-3 youngsters to experience the international atmosphere while in bangladesh would they not have less butterflies in their stomach when they take guard to a Steyn or an Anderson?

  • Sahil on February 13, 2010, 7:27 GMT

    Well Harsha is quite a contradictory picture while writing articles and doing commentary.I thought him to be an intelligent observer of the game but his articles somehow prove me wrong.Raina is one of the best talents around and u don't judge by mere numbers....Sehwag hasn't got that great a record in one dayers and perhaps some time back people would say his style of batting wouldn't suit test matches but look what a revelation he's been....And apart from that we need a left hander in the middle order to negate the bowling tactics of Harris...so i would say it's a commendable selection.

  • prashant on February 13, 2010, 7:14 GMT

    Curious case of Indian selectors : 1.Mithun and Tyagi gets dropped without playing a match.(May be he should practice more serving drinks). Do anyone remember Dhawal travelled to Newzealand?Are India test caps for sell?May be they want team composition like this , Out of 16, 6 batsmen, 6 bowlers , 2 wicketkeepers, 2 travellers. 2.Dinesh 'Ambulance" karthik is called after every other series as cover.He played one test in Bangla , dropped again and now got selected again.If he is good enough, why he was dropped? 3.Poor Saha, Harsh already talked about him. 4.Mishra gets dropped after scoring 50 and taking 7 wickets.Ojha gets chance ..he takes some wickets ...next test he gets dropped and Mishra plays. do anybody remember Romesh Powar ?

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