Ishant won't be going to South Africa
One week may be a long time in politics, but in Indian cricket even a few hours are enough to turn events on their head. As of noon on Wednesday Ishant Sharma, the Delhi mediumpacer, knew that he was to join the Indian team in Cape Town for a week. That decision has now been changed with the player being told he should focus on key domestic games coming up.
Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of selectors, issued a statement from Durban, where he's watching the second Test, that it had been decided not to summon the paceman for the final Test of the ongoing three-match series.
"Initially, he was being considered to be drafted into the Indian squad," Vengsarkar said. "However, considering his domestic schedule, it has now been decided not to have him fly down to Cape Town and instead allow him to concentrate on domestic first-class matches."
Vengsarkar's statement has finally put a lid on a typically out-of-the-box plan by the team management, which had wanted Ishant to spend quality time with the team on tour, as VRV Singh and Piyush Chawla, the legspinner, have done on previous occasions.
That plan almost came to fruition; indeed, by noon yesterday the arrangements for his travel to South Africa - flight bookings, visa procedures and other formalities - had been made by the board's travel agents, and a provisional itinerary was drawn up.
Then, between noon and the close of play at Delhi's Ranji Trophy match in Rajkot on Wednesday, events took a dramatic turn. Niranjan Shah, secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, currently in Singapore to attend a meeting of the Asian Cricket Council, spoke to Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of selectors, who is with the team in Durban, and it was decided that Sharma would not be sent after all.
The decision was conveyed to Ishant, who was then playing for Delhi against Saurashtra at Rajkot.
The exact reasons for the turnaround were unclear at that time but there was widespread confusion; indeed, as late as yesterday evening AFP put out a news report quoting Ratnakar Shetty, the Board's Chief Administrative Officer, saying Ishant would leave on December 31.
Ishant now finds himself heading not to Cape Town but to Vijayawada, where Delhi play their next Ranji match.
It is worth recalling, however, that Shah and Vengsarkar have disagreed on more than one issue in the recent past. During India's capitulation to South Africa in the one-day series, Shah had said the board had the "power" to call back any player [from a tour] if he was not delivering the goods. "The selection committee can always call anybody back and replace him with a new player," Shah said in a television interview. "The board and selection Committee have full power in this regard. But first we would be watching the performance in the first Test.''
Vengsarkar was quick to downplay Shah's comments when they were put to him. "That is his viewpoint. I cannot comment on that," said Vengsarkar. "They [players] are here because they have been picked for the tour. [Only if] a player is injured or unavailable for selection, then we will call somebody else."
Interestingly, within days Irfan Pathan became the first player to be sent back from a tour to play domestic cricket.
Similarly, Shah and Vengsarkar disagreed over the need for a bowling coach, a cause which Vengsarkar openly espoused. At that time, Shah had said, "the team has not made any demand for it [bowling coach]. It is Vengsarkar's personal opinion."
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo