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October 20, 1998


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A question of selection

Prem Panicker

The team for the mini-World Cup in Dhaka was finalised in course of a one and a half hour meeting on Sunday, October 18.

As announced, the team reads: Mohammad Azharuddin (captain), Ajay Jadeja (vice captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Robin Singh, Nayan Mongia, Javagal Srinath, Anil Kumble, Ajit Agarkar, Sunil Joshi, Venkatesh Prasad, V V S Laxman and Nikhil Chopra.

For once, we did not, on Rediff, run a team analysis piece -- mainly because we had the Diwali weekend at the time.

On my return here, I find that the questions that came to my mind when I read the news reports have also occured to a couple of readers, who wrote in to voice their opinions. What follows are quotes from their mails:

They have dropped Harbhajan Singh because somebody in the ICC has objected to his bowling action. What a great way to encourage, support and stand by your player. First they destroyed Rajesh Chauhan, now they are out to destroy Harbhajan Singh. The Sri Lankans were earlier told about Muralitharan's inappropriate bowling action, but they stood behind him -- apparently, they are not as cowardly as our selectors.

Laxman has been selected, even after his disappointing performance in the past. In six matches (five innings) he has scored a total of 51, with a highest of 23 not out and an average of 12.75, with a strike rate of 48.57. This was followed up with scores of 6, 0 and 4 in the Commonwealth Games. So he was certainly not selected on the basis of these performances.

Was he then selected on the basis of his performance in the Challenger Series, which was held to select the team for the mini-World Cup? In the only match played in that series, Laxman scored 0 -- so that could not be the reason either.

So what then is the reason? Was he selected based on zonal considerations, or because he has a strong godfather? We all know the answer to this one, don't we?

That poor chap Amay Khurasia gets ignored yet again. He was played for India A against Australia, and scores 117 not out off 107 balls. But the selectors waited till the Commonwealth Games to give him a chance. There, he scored 83 out of the Indian total of 157, in the only match he played in. He was then picked for the Challenger series, and in the only match, he scores 55, which was the highest score of the match and of the tournament.

Still, he is not picked, because he lacks the most important criteria for selection - strong zonal representation and a godfather. Even our so called impartial, logical, respected and knowledgeable cricket critics don't want to mention his name.

The above mail comes from Arvind Singh. And it raises a point I meant to make. I mean, there was so much ballyhoo about the Challenger series, about how it was meant to help the selectors pick the team for Dhaka. It was also said that the tournament would give young hopefuls a place to perform.

The best performance was by Amay Khurasia -- and I don't mean only in terms of his having got the highest runs. I was watching that match, and Khurasia's temperament, control and strokeplay were impressive. He came in with the India seniors in all kinds of trouble, he anchored the innings, kept the target within reach and, all round, played a beautifully controlled knock.

And then he is dropped. Is this the selectors' idea of encouraging young talent? It is not just Khurasia who will now be completely demoralised, and disheartened -- every youngster hoping to make a place for himself will realise, from this example, that ultimately, performance does not count.

The second mail, quoted in part, runs thus: I was going through the media coverage of the team selected for the mini-World Cup, and came across some very interesting pieces which throws light on the wisdom of the Indian think tank.

The first is the selection of Laxman. "Chopra's inclusion was not debated, but Laxman's was. The lack of unanimity for the inclusion of Madhya Pradesh's Amay Khurasia and Maharashtra's Hrisikesh Kanitkar paved the way for Laxman's inclusion. Skipper Azharuddin suggested the name of Mumbai's Amol Muzumdar, but finally the committee chose Laxman."

I quote that from the Hindu. What brilliant thinking! If you cannot decide between Amay Khurasia and Hrisikesh Kanitkar, then you choose Laxman. Great!

``If India wins in Dhaka, there will be no change, the same team will go to Sharjah. But if India loses, then the selectors will meet again and make a few changes. Two of the present selectors were in Dhaka in January and they said the pitch at Dhaka is slow in the first session and helps the spinners in the second. They said the committee should select the team for Sharjah after the match against Australia or after the final,'' said Mr. Lele.

So, if Tendulkar, Ganguly, Azhar, Ajay, Sri, Kumble, Agarkar all perform well and India wins, then Laxman, Chopra, and Prasad will retain their place for the next tournament. But, if Tendulkar and Kumble and the others fail, then Laxman, Chopra etc will be axed. Brilliant, again, the fate of the reserves hinges on the performance of the playing eleven!

Frankly, I couldn't help laughing when I read this. Mainly because it underlines the naivete of the selection committee, and of the BCCI secretary, who blithely imagine, while putting out their statements, that the average fan is incapable of understanding the sheer idiocy of some of their decisions.

In fact, I have time and again been told that only a few maverick media types like me are on this trip of constantly criticising the selection committee and the BCCI, that the average cricketer and the average fan are quite happy with the way things are.

Would someone -- Lele, the selectors, whoever? -- care to check with a Harbhajan or a Khurasia about the extent of their happiness? As to the fans, what do the above mails indicate but the fact that they are as shrewd as the media, perhaps even more so, when it comes to informed analysis?

The mail does in fact raise a question about the thought process of the selection committee -- when you are deadlocked over two players (and here, even the deadlock suggests that performance doesn't count, since Khurasia certainly has outperformed Kanitkar in recent times) a third player is taken? That defies logic! As does Lele's addendum about a further selection committee meeting to pick the team for Sharjah -- frankly, I cannot see any reason for that, other than the fact that another meeting will give the selectors, and Lele, the opportunity for another junket -- flights to the venue, five star accomodation, the works, not to mention the payment, not just for the day of the meeting but, by the one day before one day after rule, for the days preceeding and following.

I have only one other thought to add, and this relates to Lele's reason for dropping Harbhajan Singh ("If he is picked and they call him in Dhaka, we will be one bowler short!"

Oh really, Mr Lele? Let's see, the team as picked has 14 players. I would think the side will go in with only four bowlers, that has been our norm of recent times. Even assuming the plan is to play five bowlers, let us just change that team list, scratch Nikhil Chopra and include Harbhajan Singh.

What do we get? A bowling lineup of say Srinath, Prasad, Agarkar, Kumble and Bajju. Assume that the offie is called in course of the first game -- India still has Robin Singh and Saurav Ganguly to fill in the required ten overs in that game. And for the next -- assuming they win the first one -- they can bring in Sunil Joshi.

So how does picking Bajju leave the team one short, exactly?

It is time for the Leles of this world to wake up and smell the coffee, I would think. To realise that you can't fool all the people all the time is something that must have become apparent, by now, even to him.

Prem Panicker

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