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Mongia, Kambli back in Indian side

Harsha Bhogle

Sometimes, a lot of noise goes a long way.

And the decibel levels were pretty high after the team for the Asia Cup was picked - only Laloo Prasad Yadav got more flak than the national selectors did.

This put them on the back foot, made them about as potent as the bowling side they picked and so, to nobody's surprise, Sachin Tendulkar has got the team he wanted for the Tests and ODIs that remain to be played against Sri Lanka.

Der aaye durust aaye, we tend to say - and even if the horse has bolted, we can now be satisfied that the stable door is locked.

Nayan Mongia comes back, hopefully determined to prove that he should have been spending the last two weeks with his mates rather than with his wife though it might have helped to have him match fit. After all, the batting wicketkeeper they picked as his replacement batted at number nine for India in the final of the Asia Cup. Had he been the batsman the selectors thought he was - and the captain thought he wasn't - India would have played another bowler in the final.

I fear though that with Sachin Tendulkar now obviously desperate for results (did you also sense a desperate attempt to keep his temper under check during the presentation ceremony?), Mongia might well have to open the batting again. I'd be disappointed if that happens, because it means pushing reality away by another couple of weeks. Indias need a stable opening pair and if Gagan Khoda has been picked for the specialist's job, he must play.

It must have been a toss-up between Khoda and VVS Laxman - and having already invested in Laxman, I thought the selectors would have waited to see if there is a decent return on investment. After playing Ambrose and Walsh and producing two good-looking half centuries, a friendlier attack might have been a reward for Laxman. But investment managers have their own way of going about things. Either that, or in this deadly classification game in Indian cricket, Laxman is no longer an opening batsman.

Tendulkar should be happy at Kambli's return, but now faces the problem of accomodating him in the side. The only spot open to him is at No.7, and that too if Mongia moves up. But his return will spark a fight for middle order places and will mean the captain need not spend a sleepless night if one of his batsmen is injured. Bench strength is a very good indicator of the ability of a side, and if Kambli is going to be on the bench, the batting has to be good.

It is.

The bowling, though, isn't. It is like a very thin polythene bag at the moment; the kind vegetable vendors use when they have to provide one, but also need to save money. You can see through it, and a little bit of pressure tears it completely. To be fair to the bowlers, Test cricket is going to be completely different and Anil Kumble, who is struggling to resemble the bowler his career graph portrays, might well taste a few wickets. Remember, in the first two Tests in the West Indies he got fifteen wickets - and hardly bowled after that.

He will be happy to have Rajesh Chauhan alongside him, even though it is being a bit hard on Noel David. But Chauhan has greater pedigree and more experience in the longer game, and is a very determined man. He is a big-hearted cricketer and he is hungry and deserves to be back, especially after getting 55 wickets last year.

In fact, judging by Nilesh Kulkarni's impressive performance, Tendulkar might even be tempted to play three spinners at the expense of one of the quicks and use Ganguly or Robin Singh with the new ball. The good thing with this side is that it gives him a lot of options. Flexibility isn't something Indian captains have always had; Azharuddin didn't have it in England and Tendulkar didn't in South Africa. The only option he will not exercise (and one wonders if it is fair to classify it as an option) is to play three seamers. He probably doesn't know enough about Debashish Mohanty to risk playing him, and even if he gets a seaming track (like India did in 1993 at the SSC Ground), he would much rather play an extra spinner to take advantage of the damage the track will suffer.

But what he needs more than fifteen other cricketers just now is someone who can lift the morale. They have just been handed a first round knock out by a one-day side that looks a couple of generations ahead of his. He needs to remind them, even if there is a great deal of irony to that reminder, that the last time India played a Test series in Sri Lanka, they won.

Sadly, that was the only away Test match India have won in the nineties. But we won't make much of a noise about that!

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