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January 3, 1998


Wisdom dawns, in part...

Prem Panicker

Having attained their objective of securing the removal of Sachin Tendulkar from the captaincy of the Indian cricket team, the famous five, also known as the national selection committee, on Saturday rescinded its month-old edict regarding Tendulkar's place in the batting order, while giving Mohammad Azharuddin a free hand in deciding the batting order.

Even this decision -- or rather, its announcement -- was not without its share of farce. Announcing the Indian team to take part in the Bangladesh Silver Jubilee Independence Cup cricket tournament, chairman of selectors Ramakant Desai said that Ajay Jadeja would open the Indian innings.

Board secretary Jaywant Lele, present in his capacity of convenor of the selection committee, quickly corrected him by saying that Azharuddin had accepted the selectors' suggestion that Jadeja was better off in the middle order.

Rather interesting, that, and it in turn raises a question that remains unanswered -- if, today, the national selectors are "suggesting" that Jadeja was better off in the middle order, why then did they, just a fortnight ago, dicate that Jadeja should open the batting? It all goes down to the question that worries cricket fans and reporters -- if the board chops and changes its own decisions in a span of just a few days while holding the captain accountable for all results, where does the committee's own accountability come in?

Anyway. Corrected in his original statement, Desai then informed the media that the national selectors have given Azhar a free hand (a luxury denied, in case it needs reiteration, to former skipper Tendulkar) in sending his batsmen in any order he deemed fit. This, Desai said, included asking Tendulkar to open, if Azhar thought fit to do so.

Meanwhile, there is more -- Mohammad Azharuddin, at the selection meeting at the Cricket Club of India in Bombay on Saturday, indicated that he himself would like to come in at number three in the order, where previously he has been going in at number four or five. This suggestion, too, was accepted by a suddenly complaint committee.

Follows, the team: Mohammad Azharuddin, Nayan Mongia, Sachin Tendulkar, Sairaj Bahutule, Robin Singh, Saurav Ganguly, Rishikesh Kanitkar, Javagal Srinath, Debashish Mohanty, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Harvinder Singh, V V S Laxman and Rahul Singhvi.

Rajesh Chauhan The most notable omission is Rajesh Chauhan. Lele dropped a bombshell when he indicated that the International Cricket Council had, in an official letter to the BCCI, indicated that it had doubts about Chauhan's action.

During the recent series against Sri Lanka, ICC match referee Bobby Simpson had asked for videotapes of the bowling actions of Muthiah Muralitharan, Jayanta Silva, Kumara Dharmasena (all of Sri Lanka) and Rajesh Chauhan of India.

Subsequently, he officially reported Muralitharan, Dharmasena and Chauhan for throwing -- though it pays to remember that none of the umpires who stood for both Tests and one dayers called any of the troika.

What is even more interesting is that the ICC committee on throwing has, among its members, no less than Kapil Dev Nikanj. It will be recalled that earlier this year, following another ICC directive, Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar (the latter in his capacity of head of the BCCI technical committee) had first examined the ICC tapes, and deemed that said tapes were insufficient evidence to suspect Chauhan of chucking. Subsequently, the Indian off spinner was summoned to the nets, to bowl before Gavaskar and Dev. His bowling action -- Chauhan was asked to take his shirt off, so that his arm could be seen even more clearly -- was videotaped, and the tapes sent to the ICC together with a clean chit signed by both Gavaskar and Dev.

Now, the ICC has barred Chauhan again. The official letter says that the technical committee of the global body has unanimously decided (does this mean Kapil Dev is a party to the decision, and has thus reversed his earlier stand?) that the bowler's right hand gets straightened just before delivery, thus constituting a "throw".

The ICC has, further, kindly offered to train Chauhan in a legitimate bowling action through expert coaching abroad, at its own expense. Lele, reading out the letter, said the BCCI would foot the overhead bills and travel costs involved, once the ICC intimates the exact programme of training.

What is interesting here is that the BCCI is not protesting the decision -- in keeping with its stand of never backing its players, but always bowing down to the dictates of the global body.

In contrast, take the Sri Lankan board's attitude when Muralitharan was called -- called, mind you, which has never happened to Chauhan though he has bowled before every single reputable umpire in the world today -- in Australia in early 1996.

The Lankan board promptly had Murali examined by doctors, then had him videographed from all angles, presented the tape to the ICC, said firmly that it believes Muralitharan's action is not suspect, and indicated that it would continue to pick the off spinner in its squad and if the ICC persisted in its allegation, the board would consider legal action if necessary.

The BCCI, not quite as firm-hearted when it comes to standing up for its own, meekly says sure, anything you say, we will send Chauhan to school to learn to be a good boy.

Interestingly, the ICC letter gives a veiled warning that until the remedial action is taken -- that is, till Chauhan goes back to school -- the Indian board is well adviced not to select the off spinner, because he will run the risk of being called for throwing.

What precisely does this mean? That the ICC will instruct umpires to call a bowler? The umpires -- and this needs repeating here -- have not, thus far, seen the need to do so, and again, it needs mentioning that Chauhan has bowled before Steve Bucknor, Cyril Mitchley, Steve Randall (the man who called Muralitharan, interestingly), S Venkatraghavan, Peter Willey and David Shepherd -- easily the most highly ranked umpires on the ICC panel.

If these umpires have not needed to call the bowler, how does the ICC on its own decide that it will have him called? Does the ICC dictate decisions to its umpires?

It would seem so.

Meanwhile, back to the team composition -- Rahul Sanghvi, the left arm spinner from Delhi, comes in for Chauhan. Rather surprising, considering that this means the two spinners in the side (Sairaj Bahutule being the other) will both be turning the ball the same way. Meanwhile, Nilesh Kulkarni's claims appear to have been forgotten.

Venkatesh Prasad remains sidelined. Harvinder Singh remains in the lineup. Again, the decision is surprising to say the least -- Prasad, surely, has done enough to cement his claim to a permanent place in the lineup?

V V S Laxman remains in the lineup. And Rahul Dravid (1384 runs in 40 ODI innings, with one century (107) and 11 50s, and an average of 37.40) remains out of it.

It would, perhaps, be unfair to remind the selection committee of this -- after all, who needs to be reminded of their follies? But still, here goes:

Rahul Dravid is part of the lineup in Sharjah. He plays only one game. Scores 34 in even time. And is dropped. The reason given? "We dropped Dravid because he is not a permanent member of the playing eleven."

Examine this in light of statistics: During the period of Tendulkar's captaincy, India has played 54 one day internationals. Sachin has played in all of them. Azharuddin ranks second, having played 51. Ganguly has played 47. And Dravid has played 46. In other words, he has not played only 8 ODIs in 18 months -- and two of those omissions were due to injury or ill health. How does this make him an impermanent member of the lineup?

Further. Laxman was picked for the three-game series against Sri Lanka. And unlike Dravid in Sharjah who got to play one game, Laxman did not get to play at all. By their own logic, this makes Laxman, as a player without a permanent place in the side, worthy of the axe.

Just what do the national selectors have against Dravid and Prasad anyway? And is personal prejudice -- even collective prejudice by the selectors -- to outweigh cricketing merit when it comes to picking teams?

Often, in mail, I am hauled up by readers for what they perceive as my "witch-hunt" against the selectors.

Pardon the pun, but which hunt? What I am trying to do is merely analysis. And follows one more of the same.

In order to make our point, we present the Pakistan side (for Pakistan, obviously, is the real opposition there) for the Dhaka tournament: Rashid Latif (captain), Saeed Anwar (vice captain), Aamir Sohail, Inzamam ul Haq, Manzoor Akthar, Ijaz Ahmad, Yousuf Yohanna, Azhar Mahmood, Saqlain Mushtaq, Aqib Javed, Mushtaq Ahmed, Fazle Akbar, Shahid Afridi, Muhammad Hussain.

What is most interesting about this composition is that the side has three medium pacers in Aqib Javed, Fazle Akbar and Fazal Mahmood. But, keeping in mind that the pitches in Bangladesh are conducive to spin bowling, the Pakistan selectors have packed the side with spinners -- right arm leg spinners Mushtaq Ahmad and Manzoor Akthar, off spinner Saqlain Mushtaq, left arm spinner Muhammad Hussain, and right arm leg spinner Shahid Afridi.

The Indian composition? Srinath (fast), Mohanty (medium pace), Harvinder (medium, assuming he makes the eleven), Robin Singh and Saurav Ganguly (slow medium). Spinners? Just two, one of whom is a total novice. And, of course, the occasional off spin of Kanitkar, assuming he makes the playing eleven -- which is improbable.

It is also interesting to see just what the batting order will be, more so if Azhar decides he wants Tendulkar at the top of the order. In that case, it is Tendulkar, Ganguly, Azhar (who has indicated that he wants to bat at number three)... and then comes Navjot Singh Sidhu, the opener!


No intention of continuing the "witch hunt", mind -- just placing a few thoughts before you for consideration.

The programme for the Bangladesh Silver Jubliee Independence Cup Cricket Tournament is:

January 10: India vs. Bangladesh.

January 11: India vs. Pakistan.

January 12: Pakistan vs. Bangladesh.

January 14: First final.

January 15: Reserve rain day.

January 16: Second final.

January 17: Reserve rain day.

January 18: Third final.

January 19: Reserve rain day

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