A day after the national selection committee had picked 42 players for the Challenger Series, the Indian board sent out a clarification: " ... in India Green Team we have wrongly mentioned the name of Satyajit Parab in place of Satyajit Satbhai from Maharashtra CA". They ought to have provided one more clarification, something to the effect of: "We've picked the squads arbitrarily. On-field performances have not influenced our choice whatsoever. Any correlation between performance and selection is unintentional and coincidental." Satbhai, for example, averaged 15.75 with the bat in nine matches last season.
Picking squads for the Challenger Series, India's "premier domestic one-day competition", and supposedly a stage for emerging talent, is often termed the "biggest free-for-all" in Indian cricket selection. "Usually the chairman walks in with four or five names," a former selector said of the selection meetings for Challenger Series. "The rest have to then try to out-manoeuvre each other to get their way. It's like a card game."
The general trend is predictable: around 20 players pick themselves, the rest make it on the back of consistent domestic performances, and some fringe names (or in some cases surnames) raise eyebrows. This time, with key players being rested in view of a gruelling season ahead, some being kept back for the Under-19 series, and many defecting to the Indian Cricket League (ICL), the choices are straight from a flea market.
Perform and perish
The main criterion for selection should have been last season's Ranji one-day tournament and Twenty20 competition. Rajasthan, unlikely finalists in the Ranji one-dayers, have only one representative here, Pankaj Singh. Their batting stars, 23-year-old Rohit Sharma (not to be confused with Rohit Sharma from Mumbai) and Anshu Jain (27), don't find a place, nor do their bowling spearheads Afroz Khan (23) and Shailender Gehlot (26). Selection obviously should look beyond numbers, but just one player from a team that defied expectations has to be termed harsh. Karnataka's Barrington Rowland, the third-highest run-scorer in the one-dayers, and Tamil Nadu's M Vijay, a promising opener with 277 runs in seven games, are probably being thought of as longer-version players, but will consider themselves unlucky at having missed out in a list of 42.
Pulled out of nowhere
It's no secret that zonal preferences normally take precedence over long-term interests. The stats are glaring: 16 of the 42 chosen are from teams in the west zone, a most dominant region under the current BCCI regime. Mumbai and Maharashtra turned in fine performances, but it's most disappointing to see choices such as Gujarat medium-pacer Siddharth Trivedi (48th in the Ranji one-dayer bowling charts, with six wickets in four games) and Maharashtra wicketkeeper Satbhai (whose last four scores read 5, 0, 0, 0 before others took over). To make matters worse Satbhai is not even the first-choice wicketkeeper in the side; Parthiv Patel is likely to don the gloves.
Usually the chairman walks in with four or five names. The rest have to then try to out-manoeuvre each other to get their way. It's like a card game A former national selector
Ignore the champions Karnataka, the one-day champions from the South Zone, don't even have a single representative. While Robin Uthappa has been given a break, it is baffling to see promising Karnataka allrounders Chandrashekar Raghu and Balachandra Akhil being ignored. R Vinay Kumar has been one of the most consistent opening bowlers in the last few years, and his 12 wickets in last year's Ranji one-dayers, at 20.58, have gone unnoticed.
Orissa's Paresh Patel, a left-arm spinner, didn't play a single first-class or one-day game last season but makes the cut solely on the basis of being the second-highest wicket-taker in the inaugural Twenty20 competition. Strangely the highest wicket-taker (Haryana medium-pacer Jitender Billa) does not figure in the teams. Saurabh Bandekar, the medium-pacer from Goa, has broken through on the basis of his Under-19 performances. Iqbal Abdulla, a left-arm spinner from Mumbai, is in after two first-class games, a lone one-dayer and seven Twenty20s. Surely the Challenger cap should count for more?
Surname from heaven The case of Arjun Yadav, son of the former Indian offspinner Shivlal Yadav, comes up for debate regularly. He seems to have an honorary spot reserved in important domestic tournaments (he even made it to the Indian squad in Ireland earlier this year). It is claimed that he is a talented right-hand batsman - his sparkling 133 in a Duleep Trophy game last season, when South Zone were reduced to 14 for 5, is often recalled. But an average of 28.51 in seven seasons, with just two centuries, is nothing but middling, and there is a good case for terming him a tried-and-trusted failure. Two fifties and one century in as many as 21 zonal games - spread over five Deodhar and three Duleep Trophies - illustrates the point. Some people have all the luck. Others, it seems, just need a surname.