October 4, 2011

A bold move to drop Harbhajan

By axeing an underperforming senior player and favouring youth, India's selectors have shown they have learnt from the mistakes they made before the England tour

When you accept the job of a selector these days, you know that in return you will get a pay cheque and plenty of brickbats.

I remember doing a cricket reality TV show some years ago, where I played the role of a selector of young untapped cricket talent. At the end of every team selection I made, the host of the show, acting on the brief given to him by the producers, tried to catch me on the wrong foot. And he always succeeded. No matter how honestly I tried to do my job and how much vision or intellect I showed in my selections, he always had problems with them. This made for good television, you see.

We in cricket media can be a bit like the host of that show. We pick out something from any selection and throw it back at the selectors, knowing it will make them squirm. In fact, we seem to revel in it. With his outburst over not being picked in the one-day side, Ashish Nehra has given the media ammunition with which to once again put the selectors, and in turn the BCCI, on the defensive about yet another Indian team selection. Nehra should realise that had he been selected, there was a good chance that decision would have been criticised as well.

I believe this time the selectors have done a pretty good job overall, because they have shown a healthy attitude, aimed towards the long-term growth of Indian cricket. Perhaps the BCCI did not publicly react like we expected them to after the disastrous England tour, but with this selection they have shown they are responding, like they ought, to India's third-worst performance at the international level.

Dropping Harbhajan Singh is a case in point. Looking at the way the Indian selectors have generally operated over the years when it comes to senior stalwarts, this is a bold move. Admirably, they have officially acknowledged that Harbhajan has been dropped and not rested.

For far too long senior players in Indian cricket have been "rested" when we all know the "rest" has come after a spell of inadequate performances. By making it clear that the player has been dropped, the selectors are in fact doing him a favour. Nothing affects a reputed senior player more than public criticism or a public snub, which is why all these years the selectors have tried to protect the players by saying they have been rested rather than dropped.

I remember Imran Khan being very critical in the media of Inzamam-ul-Haq's captaincy and leadership on India's tour of Pakistan in 2003-04. Inzamam was understandably hurt, and Ramiz Raja, who was then the temporary CEO of the Pakistan board, tried to get Imran to speak to Inzamam about it. Imran refused, telling Ramiz, "Public criticism is good for him. He will only improve from it."

There is a very good chance that a man of Harbhajan's talent and experience will come back a better player after being dropped. If, like Virender Sehwag's, Harbhajan's career takes a positive turn after the snub, he will remember this moment as one that helped extend his career.

The selectors have also favoured youth, and that too must be applauded. There were plenty of convenient choices, like Nehra, who they could have picked out of sheer habit, but they resisted the impulse.

Yusuf Pathan, I have reliably learnt, has been left out of the team for the first two one-dayers on grounds of fitness. He is playing for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the Champions League Twenty20, but the selectors did not go by the book and consider him for selection just because he is playing; they used their collective wisdom as former cricketers to judge Pathan's fitness. He did not look 100% fit to them and so they were not willing to punt on him. This, I believe, is a direct effect of what happened in England, and it's a good sign that the selectors are now trying to be more vigilant about players' fitness.

Although this selection is for only two matches, the vision of the selectors has been promising. Having said that, I have lived in India long enough to know one should not get too carried away, for this is a land of constant compromises. Till I see the selectors continue to pick squads in similar fashion to the latest one, and not make compromises on fitness, even when it comes to the heavyweights of Indian cricket, I will remain cautiously optimistic.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

Comments