The inclusion of members of the Under-19 World Cup winning side in the list of 23 Indian probables for the ICC Knock-out Trophy has been lauded by many as a step in the positive direction. The axing of the 'tainted' players on grounds of 'pressure' or 'merit' has also been appreciated by a majority of the public. However the past record of the selectors does not really augur well for the youngsters selected.
In the 3 tournaments that immediately followed the 1999 World Cup, a total of 19 players were selected. Out of those 19 players, 12 have been selected in the list of 23 probables.
This list of 12 includes Kaif who did not get a single international game until the second test against South Africa in March 2000. Jacob Martin played 8 one-dayers for India at Toronto and Australia with very little display of ability against fast bowling.
Debashish Mohanty has fallen out of favour with the selectors after the tour to Australia where he played in three out of India's eight onedayers in the Carlton & United Series. Yet it must be remembered that Mohanty's bowling was one of the important contributions towards India's win against England in the 1999 World Cup which helped it advance to the Super-Six stage.
Is there any tangible evidence that Martin is now better at handling fast bowling at the international level? Is Mohanty going to be India's support seamer for the near future with Srinath and Agarkar being the spearheads?
If so, then what happens to Kumaran and Bhandari who in fact were the 2nd and 3rd choice seamers in the Asia Cup at Dhaka in May/June 2000? The selectors revel in the game of dropping players and recalling them a year later or so when the players in question have lost all hope of making it to the senior side.
Effectively only 9 out of the 19 players who represented India at around this time last year are likely to find a spot in the final list of 14. The list of players who were part of the 19 representing India between August to October 1999 but have been ignored from the current list of 23 probables makes interesting reading. In this list are Ajay Jadeja, Nikhil Chopra, Amay Khurasiya, MSK Prasad, Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Vijay Bharadwaj.
Srinath had indicated a while ago that he was not in favour of playing too many one-day matches. If the BCCI President's explanation, which is quite contrary to what the selectors said, for the non-inclusion of Chopra and Jadeja is accepted, then it leaves us with Khurasiya, MSK Prasad, Shukla and Bharadwaj.
Ironically exactly a year ago, MSK Prasad and Bharadwaj were giving very good accounts of themselves. Prasad did a very good job with the gloves at the DMC Toronto Cricket Series against West Indies and continued his good work at Kenya in the LG Cup Quadrangular. Vijay Bharadwaj was undoubtedly the star of the LG Cup by turning in very good performances with bat and ball, in his first four internationals. Yet, all it took was a couple of poor series, against New Zealand and Australia, to wipe them out completely from the minds of the selectors.
MSK Prasad did have his shortcomings. But replacing him with people like Sameer Dighe and Saba Karim showed that the selectors were quite clueless about grooming a wicket-keeper for the future. Now we have the extremely strange situation of 3 keepers in the list of 23, none of whom have played a single international game !
Laxmi Shukla must count himself as being one of the huge list of players the selectors have selected and dropped at their whims and fancies. Shukla was first selected for the Indian team during Pakistan's tour of India in early 1999. He nearly made it to the final eleven during the Asian Test Championship game against Sri Lanka. In 3 one-day internationals, he did not do anything spectacular but he did not look totally out of place either. However the selectors were not willing to persist with him.
Khurasiya had a splendid start to his one-day career with a 50 on debut against Pakistan. He faded away after that showing lack of ability against fast bowling on pitches in India, Sharjah, Sri Lanka and Singapore. Obviously the selectors were right in dropping him.
Who knows what will happen of Sodhi, Yuvraj Singh, Ajay Ratra, Reuben Paul and company after the ICC Knock-Out trophy is over? Will they be selected for the test series against Zimbabwe? The selectors have a few opportunities over the next couple of months to take a few bold decisions which will take Indian cricket forward. Followers of Indian cricket can only but hope fervently that they will.