| Sourav Ganguly won many admirers for the manner in which he batted at Karachi
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If all the gambles pay off, and India triumph at Nagpur, it will be hailed
as a masterstroke on the part of the selectors and the team management.
Should it go pear-shaped, however, and the recriminations will begin in
right earnest. Sourav Ganguly's omission from the Test squad wouldn't have
been so much of a surprise if Yuvraj Singh - in such imperious form of
late - had been fit. But with Yuvraj nursing a torn hamstring, the
decision to go with an off-colour Mohammad Kaif and an uncapped Suresh
Raina is bravery bordering on folly.
Ganguly won many admirers for the manner in which he batted at Karachi.
With his career possibly on the line, he literally sweated bullets over
the two innings. Ultimately though, a middle-order batsman needs to
deliver more than 30s and 40s, and had he been asked to make way for
Yuvraj - with Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman taking the
other middle-order berths - there would have been few complaints.
The other compromise mooted was never on. Ganguly was an all-time great
opening batsman in one-day cricket, but the idea of him fronting up to the
new ball in Tests was never a realistic one, even less so against an
English pace attack that has now displaced Australia's as the game's most
lethal strike force. The makeshift-opener theory didn't work on a lively
pitch at the National Stadium, and both Dravid and Greg Chappell had
suggested afterwards that such tinkering wouldn't be entertained in the
future - not when it meant playing the world's most consistent No.3
batsman out of position.
Kaif did little in the one Test he played against Sri Lanka, and even less
in the one-day series in Pakistan. But his half-centuries against a mighty
Australian side back in 2004 have clearly lingered in the memory, and this
is his chance to prove to critics that those displays weren't an
aberration in a limited Test career characterised by underachievement.
Whether he gets the opportunity remains to be seen. Raina is 19, and the
flavour of the month - a spectacular fielder, and a batsman whose off-side
strokeplay at Multan evoked memories of Ganguly in his pomp. Chappell
believes that Raina has it in him to be one of the game's greats, and a
series against England will be as tough an introduction as any. If he
fails, one can only hope that the experience doesn't scar him.
Wasim Jaffer deserved an opportunity given his domestic form, and the
promise that he showed against a lively Pakistan A line-up in a tour game.
But like many others before him, the transition to the biggest stage has
been a tough one. Gautam Gambhir paid the price for one failure too many,
and Jaffer will need to be on his game straight away to avoid a similar
It's all change too on the bowling front, with both Ajit Agarkar and
Zaheer Khan making way for S Sreesanth and Vikram Raj Vir Singh. Agarkar
simply ran out of chances, while Zaheer can count himself a touch unlucky
after a fine spell or two in thankless conditions at Faisalabad. Given the
sameness of the left-arm pace attack though, it comes as no surprise,
after Rudra Pratap Singh and Irfan Pathan have outperformed him in recent
Sreesanth was impressive at times in the ODIs against Pakistan, moving the
ball out at a fair clip and creating plenty of chances for the slip
cordon. At Test level though, with the emphasis on endurance and guile, it
remains to be seen if he has the nous to make the same sort of impact. The
same could be said of Vikram, who has yet to play even a one-dayer.
Piyush Chawla's inclusion was also expected, given that it's time India
started to plan for a future without Anil Kumble. While the master is
still around, the undoubtedly talented apprentice will learn much from
training and net sessions, and also from personal interaction. If he can
imbibe even half of Kumble's work ethic and desire for success, India will
have one heck of a bowler to look forward to.
Few will be talking of Chawla tomorrow though. The decision to leave
Ganguly out will dominate all cricket talk for a few days yet, and if
India slip up at Nagpur, the snowballs of dissent will become an
avalanche. Seldom can a long kiss goodnight have lingered so long.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo