IPL slump costs Hardik and Negi
Seam-bowling allrounder Hardik Pandya has played each of the 16 T20Is India have played so far in 2016. Left-arm spinning allrounder Pawan Negi was first picked for the three-match T20I series against Sri Lanka at home and then included in the Asia Cup and World T20 squads, but he featured in only one of the 13 games India played during those tournaments. Both Hardik and Negi were left out of India's squad for the limited-overs tour to Zimbabwe, where they will play three ODIs and two T20s in June.
Their poor form in the IPL, and the selectors' decision to reward consistent domestic performers like Vidarbha batsman Faiz Fazal, and Haryana spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Jayant Yadav, resulted in their omission.
While Hardik managed only 44 runs and three wickets from 11 matches for Mumbai Indians in IPL 2016, Negi's eight games for Delhi Daredevils yielded merely 57 runs and a wicket.
Fazal, who has not played IPL since 2011, made 127 in Rest of India's record chase of 480 to win the 2015-16 Irani Cup against Mumbai, and a century and a fifty in India A's victory in the Deodhar Trophy. In the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2015-16, Fazal made 312 runs at an average of 52 in seven innings, and in the 20-over Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy he scored 205 runs at a strike rate of 102 in nine innings.
Chahal is currently the second-highest wicket-taker in IPL 2016 with 20 scalps at 18.30. The legspinner was the side's top wicket-taker in 2015 as well with 23 wickets in 15 games. Jayant, the offspinner, took eight wickets in Rest of India's historic win in the Irani Cup in March. The offspinner then made sporadic appearances for Daredevils in IPL. He was the team's second best bowler in terms of economy rate - giving away 7.35 runs an over in five matches.
"The IPL is definitely one of our premier domestic tournaments," a source privy to the team selection told ESPNcricinfo. "Fourteen matches is a pretty good opportunity to showcase a player's talent. One thing is for sure - someone who is doing exceptionally well at that stage will get picked and lack of form will also be a reason [for a player being excluded]."
The source, however, added the IPL wasn't the sole criterion, and that the low-profile nature of the series was factored when it came to picking the squad. "We have not missed someone who has performed in the past and at the same time we have rewarded those who have done well currently, like Faiz Fazal or Kedar Jadhav. Their selections had nothing to do with the IPL," he said. "It is more like an A tour rather than a full-fledged tour. Had it been some other series the thought process [towards selection] would probably have been different."
According to the source, Hardik needed a break after a prolonged slump in the IPL. "I feel Hardik has got what it takes to be a good allrounder but I think he needs some space to think," he said. "The issue is he is not in form right now and it will be undue pressure on him if he still continues [being selected for India]. He has not been performing in 14 games, for almost 45-50 days. Mentally also, he might have been drained had he been asked to pull up his socks and get ready for an international call."
Former India left-arm spinner Maninder Singh felt Negi was bogged down by the pressure that came with being bought for INR 8.5 crore by Delhi Daredevils at the IPL auction, and that he needed a mentor to guide him. "There is no doubt he is talented but he suddenly got into the India T20 side and then went for the kind of money he went. [I think] that pressure he could not handle on his own," Maninder told ESPNcricinfo.
"I think this is the time for him to get into the game and find the right people who can tell him what to do and how to do it. I hear he is a boy who doesn't talk much, so basically I think he is a shy character, so he needs a captain or a coach to keep motivating him and tell him what he is capable of.
"That [IPL price tag] is big pressure and he has lived with the pressure throughout the T20 World Cup. Some people thrive under that kind of pressure but I think he is somebody who has been pressurised by it. He looked lost throughout the World T20 and the IPL."
The source privy to the selection, however, said Hardik and Negi were in contention for future tournaments. "Hardik and Negi are still young. They are hardly 22-23 so they will make it," he said. "The moment they do well again they will be in the scheme of things.
"Once you are away from the game you will understand yourself much better. There is no doubt that once a player plays for the country he comes into the top bracket and he knows what it takes to do well at this level."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun