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August 30, 1997


No ball!

Harsha Bhogle

Sometimes, just sometimes, you feel a touch of sympathy for India's cricket selectors.

Whatever their affiliations - and this committee has a few - you cannot conjure up wealth out of waste.

There is a very strange situation confronting Indian cricket, and the selectors are the first in the line of fire. We have a whole range of batsmen from whom to pick six, if not seven, and very very few bowlers to make up the other six.

The granary is overflowing but there are no vegetables and there are no spices.

Indian cricket has three bowlers of international standard in Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad and Anil Kumble. For various reasons, neither of those three could be picked and because of some poor early selections, and subsequent lack of faith, a whole new team has had to be assembled. And so we have six bowlers in this side, not a single one of whom was even in contention ten months ago.

If they had built on the selection of even one out of Paras Mhambrey, David Johnson and Dodda Ganesh, the attack would not have looked as bare as this. From that point of view, the selectors have perhaps themselves to blame.

I would have thought all three would have been sent to the MRF Academy straightaway to build on their obvious potential. Instead, MRF is currently improving the skills of Lance Klusener, Chaminda Vaas and Ravindra Pushpakumara.

It is all very well to feed your guests first, but you cannot then complain of starvation.

Of the six bowlers in this side, only Abey Kuruvilla really picked himself, and even he would be disappointed with his performance in Sri Lanka. Debashish Mohanty, with six first class matches before the tour of Sri Lanka, becomes second lead by default. And Harvinder Singh, with five first class matches, is the reserve.

Navjot Sidhu speaks very highly of Harvinder, and if he took five wickets against Pakistan A in the SAARC Trophy, there must be something there.

I suspect Rajesh Chauhan sneaked in ahead of Noel David on the captain's recomendation. Chauhan is a big-hearted cricketer who has this ability to display his commitment and Tendulkar, in such desperate times, probably prefers to have someone like him. David needed to be around, at least for his fielding skills which stand out in such a ragged side, but he probably lost out on his batting.

Having picked Kulkarni and Chauhan, and aware that the three fast bowlers between them would not contribute too many runs, the last bowler had to be able to bat in the lower middle order. And that explains Hrishikesh Kanitkar's selection, though it has been prompted by performances in first class cricket. I feel a bit concerned for him, because such is the scarcity of all-rounders that he will be expected to perform on both fronts. Having got his runs at number three against pretty average line-ups, he will now have to go out at number seven or eight and attack international class bowling (and make no mistake, even without Wasim, Waqar and Mushtaq, this a decent Pakistan bowling line-up). But now that he has been picked, it is important to stay with him. We have had too many ad-hoc selections and cricketers are beginning to look like tour managers - here today, forgotten tomorrow.

The need for greater depth in batting has also prompted the return of Saba Karim. But we must tread cautiously here, because apart from an initial half century which is propping up his average, he hasn't really scored runs. When you pick a wicketkeeper for his batting skills, he should be able to perform as an all-rounder. Can India play Karim at number six and allow themselves five bowlers? My answer is no. But then, this is a great opportunity for him - because he now has eight matches to prove himself, without worrying about his place in the side.

You would normally believe that in a squad of fourteen, at least ten or eleven players would pick themselves. That is an indicator of a healthy side. Not more than six in this side (seven if you want to include Kuruvilla) could seriously have planned to spend a fortnight in September in Toronto. Five of those (Tendulkar, Jadeja, Azharuddin, Dravid and Ganguly) are batsmen, and even Robin Singh is really a batting all-rounder.

If you ever wanted a statement on the skewed nature of Indian cricket, this would be it.

Let's raise a little cheer too, for Jadeja's appointment as vice-captain. It will do his morale, dented as it must have been by match-fixing allegations, a world of good. I believe he is a committed cricketer, and we have allowed him to be insecure for too long. I have always found him to be very honest in his views, even when they concern himself, and I think this appointment is a good one for Indian cricket.

Now, let us leave the selectors alone for a while. If you think a little deeper, I think you will discover that they are merely a symptom of the ills of our cricket - not its primary cause.

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