A squad picked on reputation?
Former Indian cricketer WV Raman looks at the squad picked for the first two Tests against England.
The new selection committee headed by Sandeep Patil was not expected to go against the grain, but their decisions in some cases have left enough room for doubt as to whether current form or past reputation has been used as the yardstick. The only clarity is in their sending out a loud and clear message to Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, by bringing Murali Vijay into the squad. Vijay's inclusion serves to provide the needle that established players need at times to raise their game.
Sehwag notched up a century batting down the order in the Ranji Trophy game against Uttar Pradesh and of course what applies to others need not apply to him as he does not get affected by things that are happening around him. By this, I mean that the inclusion of Vijay will neither deflate him nor will his century send him running towards his dancing shoes. His partner, Gambhir, is a total contrast in that he gets affected as quickly as Sehwag gets runs when in full flow.
The middle-order slots have been a sort of merry-go-round since the exit of Sourav Ganguly, and the experiment with Suresh Raina has come to a temporary halt with Yuvraj Singh getting the nod. The clarification that Ajinkya Rahane is viewed as a middle-order batsman was much needed as he was left to warm the benches in the past without being categorically told where he belonged. However, what is still not clear is why some performers are repeatedly ignored, regardless of the change in guard.
The case of Manoj Tiwary is rather strange, as not only did he get runs against the visiting Englishmen but he has also done well in limited-overs international cricket in his sporadic appearances. The lack of "X factor" was cited as the reason for S Badrinath's indifferent treatment when he was getting runs as regularly as a batsman possibly could. Rahane deserves to be picked no doubt, but at the same time Tiwary cannot be the soft target eternally.
The batting line-up looks formidable enough but the bowling attack seems a wee bit thin, given that Ishant Sharma has been recalled after one good spell and Harbhajan Singh comes back into the squad more on the weight of his experience. Zaheer Khan was not convincing enough in the Twenty20 games but despite that, he will be expected to lead the charge as Ishant and Umesh Yadav are yet to master consistency. The dry surfaces in India will facilitate reverse swing, a possibility that the Indian seamers will be banking on heavily. Zaheer has arguably been the best exponent of reverse in recent times but it remains to be seen if Umesh and Ishant have learned the craft from Zaheer.
Harbhajan's inclusion poses a mega conundrum for Dhoni as it will not in the best interests of anyone to sit an experienced cricketer out. I say this because it is only normal for some rancour to creep into the dressing room if a seasoned cricketer is made to carry drinks. I am not suggesting that Harbhajan will create disharmony, but the possibility of him sulking cannot be ruled out if he doesn't figure in the playing XI.
In going back to Harbhajan, the new selection committee has indicated that its options are limited, which is a cause for concern. With Piyush Chawla unavailable through injury and Rahul Sharma not yet considered a Test bowler, the one possible spinning option that comes to mind is Murali Kartik, but he may not be viewed as a prudent investment. By the same token, Harbhajan is no spring chicken either, but his past achievements have given him a new lease of life which he would like to capitalise on. It is rather an irony that Patil, a former director of the NCA, has realised and acknowledged the bench strength - or the lack of it - that is currently available. I am sure his views about the same would have been different before he took over as the chairman of the selection committee.