India's one-day selection needs a rethink
The World Cup showed that those picking the side need to focus on the team's weaknesses and be bold enough to replace players who may have come to take their places for granted
Nothing succeeds like success, we know. Sometimes nothing misleads like success. India's dream run into the last four of the World Cup served to mask a number of grey areas in the team's line-up. A series of successes meant that the gifted Rohit Sharma
could continue to get away with soft dismissals, as has been his wont all along. We kept waiting for him to put his head down and start contributing to the team's cause in a measure matching his ability. That was not to be, and India did not change their opening pair through the tournament.
In his time, golden boy Mark Waugh had an extended run in the Australian team, despite a long bad patch. Form is temporary, class is permanent, the experts like to say - though the sentiment is rarely shared by the honest-to-goodness workmen of cricket that these stylists keep out. Waugh did prove his class, but it has been a long, agonising wait for Rohit to explode on to the big stage; and I am not making light of his superhuman feats when there has been less at stake.
Someone like Murali Vijay
must wonder at the unfairness of it all. After his sterling displays on the England and Australia tours, he should have been an automatic choice for the World Cup, especially as he has the flexibility and skills for all three formats of the game.
The refusal of the team management to try Ajinkya Rahane out as Shikhar Dhawan's opening partner was inexplicable, too. Not that Dhawan himself has done enough to cement his place strongly enough.
is the other enigma of the team; perhaps not so much an enigma as someone unable to make the technical adjustments to translate his immense talents and selflessness into capacity to deliver against the fast, furious and short-pitched. His brilliant fielding and his reasonable batting form in the early rounds made him a fixture in the side, but in hindsight, retaining him for the semi-final was surely another selection lapse? Judging by the way he got out to a relatively innocuous delivery, he seemed to succumb to the pressure of self-doubt, despite all his hard work to learn to play the short ball better.
was another regular in the XI who did not really pull his weight as an allrounder, though it must also be said that his pre-World Cup form - when he was fit - had not been much to write home about for a while. Here is another player who has not lived up to his promise, except in the fielding department, but has enjoyed the selectors' confidence for far too long. Unfortunately, his prospective replacement in the Indian squad was a rookie left-arm spinner
picked on the strength of four-over spells in the IPL.
Can there be more one-day tournaments in India, so that T20 does not become the main provider of raw material?
India (and R Ashwin
) missed another chance to develop Ashwin as the allrounder he can be. Though Ashwin bowled beautifully in an old-fashioned, disciplined style, his batting disappointed. Here's a lower-order batsman of unusual merit, with plenty of time to play and an impressive international record, who batted too low in the order, and rarely made an impression in the World Cup. India could have benefited by promoting him ahead of Jadeja, and demanding greater responsibility from him.
The consistently good showing by the team up to the knockout stage also meant that it carried a few non-playing tourists. The choice of the inexperienced Axar Patel as reserve spinner, the injury to Bhuvneshwar Kumar (why did he continue as a member of the team despite it?), and Stuart Binny's lack of opportunity were symptoms of clouded thinking or lack of application by the selectors.
Test cricket is no doubt India's major problem area, and it will need much patient rebuilding before India can dream of regaining the No. 1 spot. While the recent all-round improvement in the pace bowling is an encouraging sign, spin and batting remain worrisome. The team needs to devise appropriate short- and long-term strategies to improve in these areas.
In the meantime, they should try and enhance their chances of success in the shorter formats, at which they already are pretty good. As in Test cricket, team selection will play a key role. While most players select themselves, it is the two or three problem choices that tend to let India down when the heat is turned on by the top opponents. These players may not win a popular vote, but they tend to enjoy the confidence of the team management or captain - for reasons no doubt perfectly valid in the judgement of those men.
Is the appointment of an independent selection panel of proven limited-overs specialists who watch domestic one-day matches, and broadbasing the scope of the talent search, the way forward? Can there be more one-day tournaments in India, so that T20 does not become the main provider of raw material? Should the captain be taken out of the selection process, not because he may be a biased participant in it, but because he does not get to watch players other than those he encounters as team-mates and opponents? Surely that elusive allrounder is lurking around the corner, if only we would extend our gaze beyond the obvious.
For India to field the best one-day combination available, cold reason must prevail over sentimentality. Replacements have to be found for otherwise consistent players who tend to fail at crucial junctures owing to weaknesses technical or temperamental against the best teams or on the biggest occasions. Otherwise, for all the promise India hold, they may continue to succeed only at home.
V Ramnarayan bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s. His latest book is Third Man, Recollections from a Life in Cricket