September 2, 2011

What's with India's bizarre picks?

India's selections in the Twenty20 reflect poor planning by the men in charge

If I was a young man who had done well in the IPL, say Manish Pandey or Ambati Rayudu or Manoj Tiwary, or even S Badrinath or Yusuf Pathan, I would have been heartbroken to see the team India put out for the Twenty20 against England. None of the top three in the batting order would have made the first-choice XI, and while two of them did well, it still didn't justify their being asked to play the match.

It was great fun to watch Ajinkya Rahane and Rahul Dravid put together the partnership of the day for India, and I was delighted young Rahane was finally noticed, but they were on the ground for the wrong reasons. I would like to believe that every time an Indian team takes the field, it has to be the best possible one. At Old Trafford, India seem to look at whoever was left standing from the 50-overs team and took the field with them. By doing so they belittled the contest.

Getting the best T20 team would have meant flying in two or three players from India. It is not a staggering cost and certainly pales before the pride those players would have experienced. We send people to South Africa and to England for appointments with doctors, so surely we should be able to put them on a plane for the privilege of playing for India. Yusuf should have been there, and at least two other top-order batsmen, based on performances back home.

Selection is the most powerful arm of the BCCI, for it can encourage and admonish players, nurture them or ask them to grow further. In fact England's selectors are the unseen heroes behind their team's resurgence. At all times the aim must be to put the best Indian team on the park. India did not do that at Old Trafford.

Rahane benefitted from this lack of passion in selection, and he is a seriously good cricketer, someone we should see a lot more of in the future. He has done it the hard way; not with just a flashy innings here or there but 4673 first-class runs at 67.72, with 17 centuries. And as Dravid debuted at the other end - a farce in itself - Rahane experienced the privilege of batting with nobility.

It could be argued that part of the reason India had to go through this charade was that Gautam Gambhir was suddenly declared unfit. It was the world's most open secret that he wasn't going to play, and it's a pity it took 10 days for the decision to be made - time that could have been well spent in getting another cricketer to acclimatise to the conditions. That cricketer, Ravindra Jadeja, will now turn up cold since he wasn't with the Emerging Players Squad in Australia.

The choice of Jadeja itself is intriguing, since it isn't a like-for-like replacement. To my mind it is an admission that the team originally picked for the one-day internationals was imbalanced, with no one suited to play at No. 7. They didn't need that sort of bridge player at the World Cup because they had Yuvraj Singh as their allrounder, but here they do. The selection has been bizarre in recent times; here an opener has been replaced by a bowling allrounder.

Five international matches have come and gone on this tour and if India don't win one of the first two one-day games, they might very quickly start waiting for the tour to end, which in itself is a recipe for defeat. It will be interesting to see if India take the bolder option of playing six batsmen and five bowlers, for otherwise the bowling will be too fragile to win a tough contest. It might empower the batting - that being the reason Dravid was recalled - which is rarely a bad thing to do. And now that Dravid must play, India should be bold enough to go in with Tendulkar, Dravid, Kohli, Rohit, Dhoni and Raina, with Rahane as a back-up to the top six.

Meanwhile, word is that a new selection committee will be formed. I hope taking tough calls will be one of the criteria.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

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