August 2, 2001

Prasad, Kaif earn recalls for Test series in Lanka

There was joy for two low key cricketers in venues as different as Allahabad and Bangalore

There was joy for two low key cricketers in venues as different as Allahabad and Bangalore. Karnataka mediumpacer Venkatesh Prasad and stylish middle order batsman Mohammed Kaif earn recalls to the Indian Test squad for the three match series in Sri Lanka. The selection committee chairman Chandu Borde explained that Kaif got the nod thanks to the possibility of him doubling up as an opener. Prasad edged out swing bowler Debasis Mohanty simply on experience.

Batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar is all set to make a return to the fray after a toe injury forced him to miss the Coca-Cola Cup in Sri Lanka. In the event that a bone scan rules out Tendulkar, Baroda's Jacob Martin will make the journey to Sri Lanka. Speaking about Tendulkar's injury, Board secretary Jaywant Lele, said sports medicine expert, Anant Joshi, would certify Tendulkar's fitness on August 10.

Two players' return to India was necessitated by fitness problems - VVS Laxman and Ashish Nehra. One-Day specialists Yuvraj Singh, Virender Shewag, Amay Khurasiya and Reetinder Sodhi make way for Test specialists as expected. To open the batting, the tried and tested pairing of Sadagoppan Ramesh and Shiv Sunder Das are called up.

The bowling department loses Ajit Agarkar, Ashish Nehra, Debasis Mohanty while Mumbai leggie Sairaj Bahutule, and pace spearhead Javagal Srinath return to the fold.

By and large, it must be said that the selections proceeded on expected lines. While there was plenty for the selectors to think about while picking the squad for the Lankan series which involves three Tests and a three-day game, there was never any doubt about the composition they would arrive at. Eight batsmen, four mediumpacers, three spinners and a stumper make the trip.

Ajit Agarkar, who has a habit of developing injuries at the most inopportune moments has been omitted and this is only understandable given Harvinder Singh's achievements in the last domestic season. The Railways mediumpacer has improved by leaps and bounds and deserves a break at the highest level. "Ajit Agarkar has not been performing well recently so he has been dropped," clarified Borde, ending speculation that Agarkar might have missed out due to injury. It must be remembered that the Mumbai mediumpacer has played no part in India's campaign in the lead up to the final of the Coca-Cola Cup.

With slow turning pitches likely to be the order of the day, the selectors have strengthened the spin department. The slow men for the tour promise variety with Bahutule the leggie, Harbhajan Singh, the off spinner and Rahul Sanghvi, the left arm spinner vying for two spots.

Sourav Ganguly is firmly ensconced as captain despite his recent problems with behaviour. After being suspended for one match, Ganguly was fined 75% of his match fee in the next game for bringing the game into disrepute. A player who endorsed the highest values of on field behaviour in his playing days, Borde said of the issue, "I cannot comment on that but I only hope that he will try and improve his behaviour on the field in future." The chairman of selectors is certainly not on his own in this hope.

In a meeting that lasted three hours, the third opener's slot came up for considerable discussion, with the names of Mumbai's Vinayak Mane, Baroda's Connor Williams and Railways' Sanjay Bangar being bandied about. In the end, Kaif got the nod. It was earlier learnt that Kaif offered his services to the selectors as an opener and it seems like the selectors have finally taken him up on his offer. The experiment of using middle order batsmen in the opening slot has ended in failure more often than not, but the selectors in their wisdom seem keen to persist with that line of thought. "Now it is left to the team management to use him either as a middle order batsman or as the third opener," said Borde on Kaif's selection.

In all, there is little to be either wildly disappointed or very happy about in the inclusions and omissions in the team.

The squad: Sourav Ganguly (capt), Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar,SS Das, Hemang Badani, Sameer Dighe (WK) Mohammed Kaif, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Sairaj Bahutule, Rahul Sanghvi, Harvinder Singh, Sadagoppan Ramesh, Dinesh Mongia, Venkatesh Prasad and Harbhajan Singh.