February 29, 2012

The same old selection cop-out

India's selectors could have used the Asia Cup to send a message to some players, or to try out a team for the future. They did neither

The day before the squad for the Asia Cup was going to be picked, India's selectors indicated that their meeting in Mumbai was going to be "pivotal," one of their toughest.

About time, too. It was to be the meeting where serious decisions would be made following India's nightmare tours of England and Australia and, before Virat Kohli's century in Hobart, their below-average performance in the CB Series.

The selectors' hard calls could even have been bolstered by the fact that a low-profile regional event in Bangladesh would have been the ideal "soft launch" for a fresh core of ODI players. The meeting took more than two hours, but far from being pivotal, the results of those confabulations were timid, pitiful even.

By trying to sugarcoat their decisions with sweeping statements, the selectors ceded their power and self-censored their voice. A cursory look at the team beggared belief, and the theatrical explanations given by Kris Srikkanth to the media scrum at BCCI headquarters belonged to the theatre of the absurd.

It is astonishing that more than two hours of meaningful discussion produced this: a team composition that is neither radical reform nor short-term gamble with long-term benefit in mind. The selectors brushed aside MS Dhoni's incendiary speech about slow legs and the 2015 World Cup and gave Indian cricket some more same old, same old.

After a forgettable tour of Australia, players, we are told, have been "rested" because of injury and not dropped. "It is purely on injury grounds both [Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan] have been rested," Srikkanth said. "I can assure you that nobody has been dropped." It is a shame that an unfavourable fitness report made the decisions for the selectors, instead of them making it themselves. It is likely, though, that "rested" would have been the party line no matter what.

Regardless of injuries, the selectors also needed to send out a strong message. Not dropping underperforming players is telling every man on the team that, in some cases, poor performance and brittle fitness levels need not have any consequences. Umesh Yadav will wonder if his progress in Australia is to be bracketed with Sehwag and Suresh Raina's scores, and Zaheer's up-and-down fitness levels. Six months of "rest" from the Indian team are unlikely to dent pride or change habits. Players will coast if selectors let them coast.

So much for tough and pivotal decisions.

The most glaring selection or un-selection, however, is Sachin Tendulkar going to Dhaka. Tendulkar's future in one-day internationals has gone from being the elephant in the room to the whole zoo. The selectors, though, chose to look the other way.

Over the last three years Tendulkar scaled down his involvement in ODIs: after the 2007 World Cup he played 12 matches in 2008, 21 in 2009, two in 2010, and 11 in 2011, of which nine were in the World Cup. This CB Series is his first one-day appearance since that tournament.

Until 2011, Tendulkar seemed to be pacing himself for the World Cup, a mission that was inspirational - in how he found a higher gear again - and moving. If he was choosing when and where he wanted to play until February 2011, it was both understood and accepted.

After the Cup was finally won, however, things have gone woozy. The facts, though, are clear. Tendulkar seems to have set out his plan - he will play ODIs when he thinks he can and wants to. He did not play in four series - away and at home against England and West Indies - but is playing in Australia, and now in Bangladesh. In the contest between seeking lost form and trying to ensure his late-career struggle does not end up Kapil Dev-esque, it is easy to see which side is winning. The time was ripe for the selectors to step in: they are empowered to simplify the maze Tendulkar finds himself in. Instead, they responded as though their hands were tied. A board official even described the Tendulkar situation as "an uncontrollable".

Despite Tendulkar's stature, and in the midst of grumblings about the Hundred and India's failure to "do a Ponting", it must be remembered that he is a reasonable man, not an ogre. He has always been more hungry and proud competitor rather than tantrum-throwing diva. His persona may seem intimidating, his personality is not.

We do not know if Tendulkar has been spoken to by any of the selectors beyond his "availability" for the Asia Cup. For instance, has Srikkanth asked Tendulkar what his long-term plans are for one-day cricket? Whether the Asia Cup is actually the stage he seeks? Can the chairman of selectors not pick up the phone or set up a meeting to ask Tendulkar those questions?

When Ricky Ponting was dropped from Australia's one-day team, their selection chief, John Inverarity, said, "In elite sport, there's no place for sentiment." Indian cricket is often beaten up for being overly sentimental, and rightly so, but India is also a country of non-stop conversationalists. Surely dialogue is not alien to the culture? Srikkanth, for God's sake, was Tendulkar's first captain. That has to count for something.

Tendulkar's selection for the Asia Cup diverted attention from Suresh Raina being given another chance, when his average in Australia this season is 24.50 in ten matches. Or that Dhoni will be travelling to Dhaka as well, when his captaincy has actually lost its moorings after three tough months. Given that four of five selectors were batsmen, let's give them some benefit of doubt here. Which actually makes things worse.

One possible explanation for why Dhoni, who could do with a rest, and Tendulkar, whose greatness won't be affected by a sixth Asia Cup, are in the team to Bangladesh is that the BCCI wants to keep its slate clean in its litigation with Nimbus, which owns the broadcast rights for the tournament. One of Nimbus' arguments is that, despite a contractual obligation, the BCCI does not always send its "best team" to events whose broadcast rights Nimbus owns. If that is the real reason behind some of the selections, no wonder there were half-measures all around.

In the middle of this lack of direction came the surprise appointment of Virat Kohli as vice-captain, instead of Gautam Gambhir. Had the selectors been seen as men of great foresight, it would have been a message to both Kohli and Gambhir as to where they stand with regard to the 2015 World Cup, what one man must to do push ahead and the other must do to recover. There is a good chance, however, that this will be seen as just a trinket tossed at Kohli after his inspirational performance in Hobart and his conduct during and after the game. Kohli, though, looks the kind of fellow who could turn a trinket into a trophy.

After the defeats in England and Australia, it was said the selectors would be the most important people in Indian cricket. They obviously do not think so.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Kartheek on March 3, 2012, 11:19 GMT

    excellent !! Whwn speaking about raina's average, Shud have mentioned sachin's average of 22 together in 15 innings of this australian tour !! Indian selectors~ puppets in the hands of big players !!

    Had it been australia, Sachin would not have this tiresome career !

    India got independence in 1947, but the people decisions doesn't ~ The selection has become a function of players records but not the performance !!

  • Shruti on March 3, 2012, 10:22 GMT

    SRT is not above selctors but merits selection and will always do so.Nobody is qualified enough out here to question his presence leave alone the writer of this article who is under the impression that she knows more than Srikkanth and Co.After all pushing pen or hitting the keyboard has always been easier than breaking one's head over selecting a 15 or 17 which will never meet the expectations of these so called experts.

  • nydk on March 2, 2012, 23:39 GMT

    i have 4 problems with all the moronic negativity against sachin coming from a lot of the comments here. 1) the team should be chosen on merit. period. sachin, even in his current form, is easily good enough to make the team. 2) sachin means so much more to the average indian than some of the ingrates here. after 14 years of service and sharing his gift with the sport, he has earned the right to be able to say and do whatever he wants as long as he is fit and in good enough form to play, thats his personal decision. 3) dont you want to see him play live, rather than watch old highlights? there may not be another sachin in indian cricket in our lifetimes. i for one would love to see him play in the next world cup. 4) exactly what kind of experience do you expect the young blood, that you want to have play instead of sachin, get on insipid banglasdesh asia cup tracks which would be exactly the same as all the experience they get on indian ranji-deodhar-duleep tracks?

  • Ashok on March 2, 2012, 21:50 GMT

    SL beat Australia in 3 games out of 4 - losing the 4th narrowly by 5 runs.India lost 3 out of 4 ! SL have young players + New captain. Why doesn't India do the same, especially after their performance in Australia? Asia cup is a good place to show case the talent. There is excellent talent that showed up in Under-19 & India A team trips abroad. Players like Rahane, Pujara, Mukund & Mandeep singh in batting need to be in XI. Just including a player in the squad is meaningless unless he gets to play & show his talent. India should mandate that a player cannot be benched>3 consecutive games. This will make it meaningful to be in the squad. Tiwary did not play a single game in Australia - benched 8 consecutive games. How demoralizing! Dhoni talks about rotation of seniors. Here is a golden chance to have a complete young team & Indian Selectors drop the ball. Now that Kohli is vice captain he should fight for more youngsters in XI than on bench. Indian selectors have lot to learn from SL!

  • Dummy4 on March 2, 2012, 18:28 GMT

    Age is no issue in the game...........it the the ability to perform at big stage that counts.....................and Tendulkar's avg is surely improving by the year not declining like the case with ponting.............since 2007 his avg has been on the rise with every year ..............................so no wonderShrikant has taken right decision

  • VENKATACHALAM on March 2, 2012, 7:32 GMT

    As usual very hard-hitting article Sharda. I agree with your view that the ongoing legal battle with Nimbus has had a huge role in the selection of this team.This set of selectors just follow orders and do not care about the well being of Indian cricket.

  • Kapil on March 2, 2012, 4:39 GMT

    Though all of us were seeking more upside changes in the Indian team after a what you called literally a 'shameful' English and Australian tour, where team Indian not only beaten but with a quite large margins. The call Sehwag received was bound to be there, even Zaheer's exit not only provide him extra 'rest' but also opens up the gate for a new bowler. In fact if more new comers from domestic arena included it would be more better for the future. Now, coming on Sachin, I too think he should depart much earlier and as long he will be in the international scenario more rapidly his popularity and number of worshipers will reduce, but it was heard that he himself wants a chance where he wants to defy all the criticism of him. Whatever it may be but this should be the final one for him regardless of his 100th ton. The up gradation of Kohli is a welcomed one and Irfan should be provided more with bat and bowl. However axing Umesh is not yet understood.

  • Dummy4 on March 2, 2012, 3:11 GMT

    Ppl need to understand that Sachin's form is not an issue.. Its his age .. Being a legend, he should himself know that he cant play forever.. n needs to give youngsters a chance .. I just cant believe Rahane is not being picked, the sole reason being Sachin being picked.. His chase of that now meaningless 100th century is not doing any good for the team.. Its time to retire gracefully , rather than risking going the Kapil Dev or Jayasuriya way !!!

  • Dummy4 on March 2, 2012, 1:38 GMT

    Seriously!! when you people will stop criticising sachin??

  • vijay on March 2, 2012, 1:29 GMT

    FYI Author: Sachin VS Ponting: 1) Sachin is not playing all the matches where as Ponting was. So youngsters are getting their chances of course they are not playing all the matches tho. If you see -ves, I see positives. What if the youngsters were forced to play despite the abysmal performances in ENG/AUS. what would have happened to their confidence? 2) Sachin's batting avg compared to his team mates is far good when you compare Ponting's (ofcourse with OZ batting). 3)Sachin has been in good nick for the past 3 yrs but its not the same with Ponting.Above all what the OZ board did to Ponting is not correct! He should have been told. If they thought he was under-performing and had no faith in him, why was he asked to lead the team? He did deserve a farewell in ODI for the way he dominated his rivals as invincibles and the pressure he went through to build a new team which is now showing the results. Some common sense would be good when writing abt LEGENDS!

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