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November 8, 1999


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Strange omissions

Harsha Bhogle

Selections are times for celebration in the media and so, let us celebrate the stunning elevation of Kumaran to the national team and the certificate of reassurance that the selectors have given to MSK Prasad. These are young men, and clearly they have talent, and while there could be debate over their inclusion, we must wish them well.

But selections are also frustrating times and too often, that aspect gets glossed over. Given the media policy we have, and the reluctance to tell the complete truth, we never get to know the real story with certain cricketers. And so, we must speculate. It is at best, an exercise in uncertainty and at worst, a complete waste of time. Often, it allows people to forward harmful theories which get mocked at by people who know the answers but who choose not to let anyone know. And so, I will not forward any theories, merely make a plea for the facts. And the facts concern two cricketers with good records who, because they have not been picked, are attracting the kind of theories that could eventually overwhelm them.

The first is the mysterious case of Nayan Mongia. As a wicketkeeper, he cannot be faulted because there is little doubt that he is the best in the country. Clearly it is considerations other than his performance behind the stumps that are behind his omission. Sadly, they stay shrouded and that is a bit irritating. Was his batting considered inadequate at this level? It would surprise me if that were the case because he has played several gritty innings for India.

Is there then, a question mark over his attitude? Are the dismissals against Pakistan at Chennai and against Zimbabwe at Leicester being held against him as examples of dereliction of duty (co-incidentally, in both cases, he played a major role in bringing India close to the target!)? Or, quite simply are the coach and captain uncomfortable by his presence? If that is indeed the case, it should be stated upfront because inadequate commitment should be a stronger selection criterion than cricketing ability.

But is that it? We will of course, never know and while it is easy to quote "reliable sources" or "a selector", that is neither fair nor does it carry an assurance of accuracy. I hope at least Mongia knows why he is being left out because he has a few years left in the game and should be allowed to return minus these perceived deficiencies.

The second cricketer who must wonder if he has an allergic ingredient on him is Dodda Ganesh. Either that, or his name goes down in the scorebooks by a strange alias of the kind they have in Bangla Desh. Year upon year, he takes wickets; last year he had 74 first class wickets which in our conditions constitutes a truly remarkable effort. He bowled very well against the West Indies 'A' team last year, before that he had a good game against Australia and did pretty well against New Zealand as well.

The argument first advanced against him was that he could be wayward in the limited overs game and that he bowled too many no-balls. 'He's a five day cricketer' it was said, except that when the five-day game came around, someone erased his name and forgot to put it again. He has done all he could on a cricket ground; to ask him to do anything more is to be inhuman. It is like asking a child who has done his homework on time to do some more only because you don't want him around.

So then, what is the real problem with Ganesh? He has been on two tours with Sachin Tendulkar and if the captain doesn't have enough faith in him, that is a possible reason. But is that it? Indeed, even if it is, he deserves another go because he has had two very good years after that. I would have thought that this is the right time to pick him because he is hungry and successful and you cannot attach both those adjectives to another bowler in domestic cricket today.

The real answer, I suspect, to the baffling issue of Mongia and Ganesh will eventually emerge in the form of whispers on the media circuit. A friendly selector dropping a clue, a sharp reporter overhearing a conversation, a friend of the captain or the coach who claims to have heard it from them....but never officially.

The encouraging aspect to the selection though is that the captain and coach have had their way with Ajit Agarkar. It must have been heartbreaking for the young man to be told a day before the selection that the secretary didn't trust his fitness reports anymore. But if he is fit, he had to be in and that means India will have opening bowling options in Australia which is always a satisfying feeling.

The question of picking a third spinner must have occupied some time and I suspect the selectors must have arrived at the uncomfortable truth that there only exist four spinners of worth in India; the three in question and Nikhil Chopra. Given that the most likely option is that two spinners will play in Sydney, India did not really need more than two though it must have flattered Vijay Bharadwaj greatly to have heard himself referred to as a specialist spinner on Star News on the night of the selection! Sadly, the selectors didn't really have another left handed spin bowling option but by picking two in the 'A ' team (Rahul Sanghvi and Murali Kartik) they have made it clear that they are looking around.

There is no doubt at all that India needed to pick eight batsmen. India's batting strikes deep roots at home but is quite easily uprooted overseas and the captain would want as many options as possible. A third opener was essential given that both Ramesh and Gandhi are young and inexperienced and so Laxman, who has impressed both captains he has played under, had to come in. That is another area the selectors should be deeply worried about and they have made two good choices for the 'A' team.

Gagan Khoda probably didn't have the credentials to have been picked by the earlier committee but he didn't deserve to be forgotten either. One suspects that neither his original selection nor his subsequent omission had as much to do with on-field performance as you would like it to be. It must be difficult for a young man when he is looked at through eyes that are either strongly approving or completely disapproving and I think this committee deserves to be congratulated for giving Khoda another chance. So too with Arun Kumar who had lost his way slightly and is now a different player from the spirited strokeplayer of a few years ago. His recent efforts have shown stronger innings building skills and he is a very good prospect to follow in the West Indies.

That is a pretty good team actually with four of the best young quicks in India. Apart from Ganesh, it should be a big tour for Shukla, Bhandari and Sodhi.The batting has some deserving names in it as well and the only omission that stands out there is Virendra Sehwag from Delhi who earlier this year was good enough to play a one-day international and be part of the probables for the World Cup.

The most interesting announcement though, and perhaps the most subtle, doesn't seem to have attracted much debate. Right after the name of Sachin Tendulkar comes that of Sourav Ganguly with two letters that I think carry a lot of significance, coming immediately afterwards. Is the fact that Ganguly is now vice-captain an admission of another subtle shift? That Jadeja is not a serious contender for a Test place? Or does it mean that they didn't want to embarrass him by putting him in a situation where as tour selector, he might have to drop himself? But will he return as vice-captain for the one-dayers?

It is turning out to be a lot more interesting than the debate on the captaincy !

Harsha Bhogle

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