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November 17, 1997


Blind man's bluff

Harsha Bhogle

Selections of cricket teams have traditionally aroused a lot of interest -- as much to see who is in and who isn’t, as because of the story they tell.

And the story of the team that has been picked for the first Test is that the selectors were probably unaware of what kind of surface awaited them in Mohali.

That is why they have picked only six frontline batsmen, which means no cover for a last minute injury or sickness, and seven bowlers, which is extremely unusual for a home series.

In doing so, they have been just a bit unfair with one batsman who would have benefitted greatly from being present. That should have been VVS Laxman, because he would have given the captain some flexibility in case one of the players went down with something.

Instead, three of the seven bowlers picked will not play, or at any rate should not play if you want the ideal composition.

On seaming tracks -- which is what will suit India the best -- a side can make do with four bowlers; three quicks and a spinner. It helps if you have someone to bowl a couple of spells and India have, in Sourav Ganguly, just that -- someone who is eager to bowl and is accomplished enough to do it.

If pitches in India played true to reputation, as they so often do in places like Australia, selectors and captains alike could pick teams with confidence. Sadly, pitches in India can be as easy to predict as lottery results -- as Sanjay Manjrekar discovered during the Irani Trophy match when he only had two spinners on a track that wasn’t expected to, but did in fact, turn prodigiously.

It is nice to see the selectors keep faith in Navjot Sidhu. In India, the moment you stay away from the public eye, you tend to be forgotten. Sidhu knows that better than most. I saw him play a brave innings of 201 at Trinidad, and he didn’t seem too old then. Nor did he when he was putting up a solid century at Colombo. Sidhu was only an actor who’d missed a couple of episodes. But with Wasim Jaffer and VVS Laxman breathing down his neck, he is aware, more than anyone else, that he cannot afford another break from the game.

One person who knows what a break is all about is Javagal Srinath. His attitude during the days away from the game has been brilliant. He has been in no hurry to come back, and has shown very little of the frustration that can ruin people with injuries as serious as the one he has had. There has been enormous media pressure, and his progress has been spoken about as much as Tendulkar’s form, which must give his ego a huge boost!

He will be delighted to make his return at Mohali, as will Venkatesh Prasad who remains India’s best bowler on responsive tracks. We saw that in England, we saw that in South Africa, we saw it at Barbados and, it is not always remembered, at Colombo during the rain-affected one-dayer when he had Pakistan down at 30 for 5. Ian Chappell said, as part of his video-taped message at the Ceat Awards function, that he always looked upon Prasad as a thinking bowler, and that is apparent in the beautiful line he bowls.

There is little doubt that Srinath, Prasad and Anil Kumble are by far India’s best bowlers and under most normal circumstances, should always find a place. Kumble is in terrific form this year and as he said, during a recent interview, he is aware of the fact that his best figures have come against Sri Lanka. The cynic might point to the fact that his worst figures too probably have come against the same country, but a cricketer’s confidence is reflected in which landmark he chooses to remember.

But to my mind, the two people who will matter a lot more than those that the selectors have recently picked are the coach and physio (apparently the last named should be called “doctor”). Anshuman Gaikwad has already been told who his successor is going to be, which is a very unusual postscript to an appointment letter, and while Ravinder Chadha’s cricketing credentials are documented, very little is known about his medical skills.

Gaikwad was organising his benefit match till the 13th of November, and that can be a frustrating, time consuming and physically draining affair. It is not the best way to get into a job but in his favour, he has been a selector and is a diligent man, so he knows his subjects!

What we need to know is whether he has a contemporary bent of mind.

What we do know is that the people who appointed him, don’t.

Harsha Bhogle

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