January 11, 2013

Why are India's home ODI squads so large?

Having lots of players sitting around doesn't really do anyone concerned any good

Cheteshwar Pujara's selection to India's one-day international team was inevitable, to the extent that you must wonder why it took so long coming. (But since picking a team is much easier when you don't have to actually pick and choose players, we'll let that be.) However, since he has been added to a squad that is far too big anyway, we need to see whether or not he actually gets to play. And that is where I believe the selectors need to send a clearer signal.

As I see it, there is no point in playing Pujara anywhere below No. 4. With Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh at 3 and 4, that really leaves only one of the opening slots. By leaving out Virender Sehwag, the selectors have clearly told Ajinkya Rahane that he is going to get a bit of a run at the top of the order, which means Pujara will need to play in place of Gautam Gambhir, if at all.

The other alternative, of course, is that Yuvraj plays Suresh Raina's role at No. 6 and Kohli slips to 4 to allow Pujara in at 3, but I think Kohli has earned the right to own his batting position.

Now if indeed there has to be a choice between Pujara and Gambhir, I believe it is appropriate that the selectors make it rather than the captain and coach. In any case, teams are decided after consulting the team management, so it shouldn't be too difficult for them to choose one or the other.

But if Pujara is indeed left out, it makes no sense to have him with the team, given that Saurashtra have had a wonderful season in the Ranji Trophy and they will need him if they are to progress further. He is playing such dominant innings for them that it would be criminal to have him sit around. It's a bit like with Rohit Sharma - for Mumbai, he is the star, the match-winner, and he will be far more positive being wanted there rather than taking caps or water out for someone in the India side.

That is why India must pick no more than 13 players for a home one-day international. One reserve batsman, one reserve bowler. That means most people are sure of their places, which is nice. Picking players on the morning of a game, which means having them spend the night in suspense, does nobody any good. With 13 you cover for a late injury, and really you don't need more cover than that. In good teams you must have as few people as possible who have little chance of playing.

On another note, I hope the BCCI is very unhappy with the way the Ranji Trophy quarter-finals have gone. Three of the four matches were one-innings affairs, and while the weather may have played a part in one of those, there is no way that can be good for Indian cricket. Teams need to play to win outright, not take a first-innings lead and then sit down to lay an egg on it. Mumbai refused to go for an outright win in their last league match, which I hope earned them a rebuke somewhere, and they weren't particularly keen to ask their bowlers to bowl Baroda out a second time in the quarter-final either. I know they need to budget for workloads and potential injuries but it makes the Ranji Trophy a poorer tournament. Anything that leads to bouts of meaningless cricket cannot be good. And there has been a lot of meaningless cricket this year on pitches where bowlers have been rendered toothless.

That is why I am so eager to see young Jiwanjot Singh. I spoke to a couple of umpires and they told me that the pitches in Punjab this year were green and helped seam bowlers a lot. Runs in those conditions are more valuable, and Jiwanjot has four hundreds (including a double) this year.

On the flip side, Amol Muzumdar has made five centuries. I have long been an admirer of Muzumdar's cricket, but the fact that at this stage in life he is scoring centuries on demand speaks very poorly of the bowling he is up against. And it merely illustrates my view, long held and routinely reinforced, that having so many teams in first-class cricket does Indian cricket more harm than good.

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

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