Mongia, Kambli back in Indian side
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.
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
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!