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 have now been closed for this article

  • Orang on October 6, 2011, 6:16 GMT

    Bhajji can not only get married, he can also think big and not wonder about " Have I made it?"

  • Dummy4 on October 6, 2011, 2:38 GMT

    Good riddance. Finally bhajji is dropped from the team. He was thriving in the team on the basis of his past performances. He is completely past his sell by date, no longer turns the ball and batsmen play him with ease. It is the right time to give more chances to Ashwin and Ojha.

  • Ashok on October 5, 2011, 21:02 GMT

    Sanjay, I wish to add while it was bold move to exclude Harbhajan, it was a foolish move to exclude Ojha. He has been knocking at the door first with mallet but now with sledge hammer.I have been urging for his inclusion in England ODI's where the Indian bowling was attrocious while Ojha was on rampage taking 6 for --. twice and several 4 & 5 wkt for --. playing for Surrey.At least for home series I expected the Selectors to use their heads for an accurate wicket taking spinner. They failed to include a match winning bowler in Ojha who is in terrific form. Playing for the Rest of India last week he got 5 for --- and 4 for ---, in 2 innings - a total of 9 wkts for the match at an economy rate of about 2.5 runs/over.This is a huge mistake & the Selectors shouldl include Ojha in the squad NOW.Jadeja is a batsman not a bowler to replace Ojha.India need to play a specialist bowler or a specialist batsman - not mediocre all rounders to substitute bowlers.This is how India has" NO BOWLING".

  • Mohsin on October 5, 2011, 19:58 GMT

    Bhajji will probably b d happiest person after being dumped. At least he has time to get married now

  • Piyush on October 5, 2011, 12:52 GMT

    An article to make selectors happy, you do not pick a squad out of panic, what our selectors did with pace bowling is nothing but a knee jerk reaction, they have thrown a completely inexperienced pace attack, Ashish Nehra is not a shut case, he still has 2 years of cricket left in him and he is bowling well and at such stage if you do not pick him, you are giving a wrong message to him.Also fielding 3 inexperinced pacers and PK in a return series which is a matter of pride now is a big big risk.I still think Nehra is part of Indian scheme and so is Irfan Pathan, I wish we have IP for Australia and test him against WI, I think even at current form he is better than Vinay Kumar. Rahul Sharma well time will tell, its just last IPL he has to his credit. Dropping Bhajji was long due.

  • Harshal on October 5, 2011, 10:30 GMT

    Our BOLD selectors will panick right before Australia series and they will bring him back into the team whether or not he played domestic matches.

  • natarajan on October 5, 2011, 8:01 GMT

    Greg Chappel did the same thing during his coaching period with team India, in particular removing the term "comfort zone" from team india, in particular from Senior players".

  • Daison on October 5, 2011, 7:32 GMT

    Continuation to earlier comment - I dont think there is anything BOLD in dropping an underperformer. We now know Bhajji can only do so much that he is not a MATCH TURNER anymore like he used to be when he first appeared. I forgot the last time I saw him TURN THE BALL being a spinner. Majority of wickets he get these days are attributed to match situation and pressure or mistakes by batsman. I can't see him "taking" the wicket by the force of his talent. His overs are mere going through the motion rather than exciting nailbiting spin bowling where you expect a wicket any moment. That aura has left him. Other young talents can also do what he does now and they youger ones can improve where as Bhajji is for some reason "reluctant" for improvement. That is where the likes of Warne, Murli, Kumble have touched greatness. Batsmen never knew what to expect from them. In case of Bhajji they all know - he will not turn the ball, he will try to extract some bounce and then he hopes for the best..

  • Srinivas on October 5, 2011, 3:54 GMT

    Sanjay the heading of your article tells about the state of affairs in Indian Cricket. Something that should be normal has to be described as bold. Isn't that sad and unfortunate? Anyways, better late than never.

  • Milind on October 5, 2011, 3:50 GMT

    Indian selectors have finally learnt the truth - that no plyaer is indispensable! If Bhajji has it in him, he will make a comeback, otherwise Indian cricket will move on. Good job selectors... looks like the Eng tour has opened their eyes!

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