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March 3, 1999

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Agarkar, Kambli in World Cup shortlist

Faisal Shariff

Jaywant Lele, secretary to the Board of Control for Cricket in India, today announced a 19-member shortlist for the World Cup that runs as under:

Opening Batsmen: Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly, Sadagoppan Ramesh

Middle Order: Rahul Dravid, Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, Vinod Kambli, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Amay Khurasia

All-Rounders: Robin Singh (Sr), Virendra Sehwag

Fast Bowlers: Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Ajit Agarkar, Laxmi Ratan Shukla

Wicket Keeper: Nayan Mongia

Spinners: Nikhil Chopra, Anil Kumble, Gyanendra Pandey

This list will be further pruned to 15, by the end of the March. The final squad for the World Cup will leave for England on April 23, where they will stay in Leicestershire for a training camp.

The Indian team is slated to play six warm-up games before they begin their World Cup campaign against South Africa, at Hove, on May 15.

Though the captain for the World Cup squad is yet to be named, Mohammad Azharuddin was seen sitting along with Anshuman Gaekwad, coach of the Indian team, in the selection committee meeting held at the Bombay Cricket Association boardroom at the Wankhede Stadium. Interestingly, though Lele had said that the pruning of the shortlist was deferred to this date in order to take the inputs of captain and coach, neither of them appeared to have anything to suggest -- Gaekwad was in fact spotted with his face buried in his hands for a good part of the proceedings, which the media witnessed through the glass windows of the room within which the selection committee met.

Azhar, in the company of chairman of selectors Ajit Wadekar, left after about an hour.

Ajit Wadekar and Jaywant Lele The press conference was held in the Wankhede dressing room, with Jaywant Lele and Ajit Wadekar in the chair. Given the lack of microphones, the media crowded close to the table -- so close that at one point, Wadekar jocularly suggested that we refrain from actually climbing on the table.

Lele, while announcing the list, said that if any of the 15 players were injured before the start of the competition, they could be replaced -- but only from among the 30 probables first announced. The ECB, Lele said, would appoint a two-member committee to examine the concerned player and approve his replacement.

Asked what kind of thinking had gone into picking the probables, Wadekar said, "We thought a lot about the weather conditions obtaining in England, and decided that the weather is going to be one of the main factors. We thought about the form of the players as well, and this term has been chosen purely on the basis of current form."

Asked further if 'form' was the reason for selecting Virender Sehwag, Nikhil Chopra and Gyanendra Pandey, Wadekar sort of waltzed around the question, saying, "It is going to be very cold since, we are going in early summer and the spinners might find it difficult to hold the ball. It is very important that the players acclimatize themselves as soon as possible and peak at the right time."

Replaying to a question of whether it was fair to the 11 players who had been dropped from the probables list for no fault of theirs, Wadekar said, "Yes, it is unfortunate that these guys have missed out, but you know we had a couple of tournaments like the Deadhar trophy, Wills trophy and the Ranji Super league matches to assess their form. I hope that their non-inclusion doesn't disappoint them. Its always the case, some miss out, some make it. We can't please them all."

That statement, however, seemed rather strange when seen in context of the matches Wadekar was referring to. For instance, if performance in those tournaments was the criterion, how explain the absence of Dodda Ganesh, who has had an outstanding time with the ball, or Syed Saba Karim, who has been in very fine nick with the bat?

Wadekar said that both Kambli and Agarkar had been declared fit. "While the selectors didn't actually watch them in the nets, the BCCI physician Dr Joshi, and the team panel consisting of Dr Ravindra Chaddha and Andrew Kokinos were satisfied with their fitness."

Board president Raj Singh Dungarpur, and chairman of selectors Ajit Wadekar, had also watched the two players in the nets.

Asked what the criteria would be for the selection of the final 15, Wadekar said, "The guys are going to be playing in the tournament in India involving Pakistan and Sri Lanka. We want to give a chance to everyone and have a fair look at them. These guys will also take part in the Sharjah triangular tournament. So you see, there is a fair chance for all to perform and make a bid for places in the final squad."

On the issue of the naming of the captain, Wadekar said, "We are supposed to name the captain when we send the final fifteen. And I think that by not naming Azhar as captain, we are giving him more incentive to perform. I am sure it will enhance his performance."

The chairman of selectors professed to see similarities between the Cup-winning side of 1983, and the present one. "This team is also filled with all rounders. We have quality bowlers who will thrive in the conditions there. I think that the most important similarity is the abundance of allrounders in the squad."

Interestingly, only Sehwag and Robin Singh have been named as all rounders in this squad -- but as per the selectors, Agarkar, Ganguly, Tendulkar et al will all figure in that list.

Ajit Agarkar giving the fitness test Asked why the Indian team hasn't been performing to par in recent months, Lele chipped in with, "Well, I don't think there are any problems, we have performed well and I am satisfied with the team's performance. But I am not the right man to answer that."

Wadekar, picking up the baton, said, "I think we have done pretty well. We have lost by small margins, which is not so bad. Yes our fielding has been bad, but I think we only have a few bad fielders, once these two or three fielders are given some practice we are sure we will have a good fielding side. Yes, we muffed up in the slips but I think those things can be taken care of."

Earlier this morning, watching events on the CCI lawns, one was left wondering about fitness tests.

It was this morning that team physician Dr Ravindra Chadda and trainer Andrew Kokinos were scheduled to have a final look at Bombay boys Vinod Kambli and Ajit Agarkar, before declaring their fitness, or the lack thereof, for the World Cup.

The sole selector on the premises was Anil Deshmukh. Board president Raj Singh Dungarpur was enjoying his morning cup of tea, while desultorily scanning the newspapers.

Kokinos, intercepted en route to the gym, told me that 'Vinod and Ajit are training in there'.

"No, there will be no fitness test today, the BCCI decided that they were satisfied with the fitness of the duo," he added, as he readied for a game of squash.

So that is what we had, Agarkar and Kambli 'training in the gym', the trainer catching up on some squash. After his game, which he surrendered to the local marker, Kokinos took a couple of laps around the ground -- his stamina and endurance astonishing to see. If he could transmit that fitness to the team, the Indian cricketers would be up there with the best in the world.

Kokinos minces no words when you ask him about his wards, telling us of how, once, when he was not available during a camp, he called the lads up at 8.30 in the morning, and found most of them still asleep in their hotel rooms. "That is the kind of commitment they have towards fitness," Kokinos shrugs.

Vinod Kambli and Ajit Agarkar giving the fitness test Kambli and Agarkar wandered out of the gym at this point, the former's white T shirt pristine in its purity. "Where's the sweat?" Kokinos demanded.

" The AC in the gym was on, that's why no sweat," came the prompt, flip response from the Bombay batsman.

Agarkar caught up with us to discuss his fitness. "It is up to the selectors to decide, I feel quite fit," he said.

The two players then strolled to the swimming pool -- and our eyebrows went further up. Kambli wouldn't get in until he got a float. As for Agarkar, he didn't get his hair wet -- simply because he was merely standing in the water, not making the slightest effort to swim.

From the evidence this morning, it would appear that the Indian players agree in theory that fitness is very important -- it is when it comes to putting that theory into practise that they tend to baulk.

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