I could not believe my ears when I heard Maninder Singh defending Yuvraj Singh in the face of questions raised on his form and fitness in a tele-discussion on dropping Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly from the one day side.
Upon being reminded of Yuvraj Singh’s inability to last long in any of his Australian outings Maninder argued that Yuvraj is mostly getting dismissed through slip catches in the first class matches; however since Yuvraj bats at number four / five in ODIs & T20s there will be no slips when he comes in and he should score! Whether that comment was more insulting to Ponting’s captaincy or Yuvraj’s batting ability is for you to decide.
I have long been supporting the cause of picking only those players in ODIs who are either good batsmen or good bowlers depending on their trade but who necessarily have the accepted ‘plus’-es called good ground fielding and deft running between wickets. The philosophy is more rigidly applicable to T20 teams.
I have always believed that Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly should have retired from ODIs just after the 2007 world cup. Both are very good batsmen. But unlike Sachin Tendulkar the Lords 1996 twins do not have quick feet; they are neither skilled ground fielders nor quick runners between wickets. They are not going to contribute that little extra to the team in normal ODI / T20 conditions where we need slip fielders (Dravid’s specific plus) for only 10-15 overs and part time seam bowlers (Ganguly’s specific plus) only in overcast conditions. This means they are susceptible to finger pointing and selection hazards even if they do not perform in 2 or 3 games. You don’t want to see players of their calibre facing it.
However Australia is a place where the Golden generation boys’ batting assumes greater importance than that of the next generation of batsmen simply because the men hold their performances in these shores while the boys have been unable to do so. It happened during the 2003 tour and it has happened this time too in Test matches. I see no reason for that not happening in ODIs unless the matter is as simple as explained by Maninder.
These two ex-captains should have deserved serious thought from selectors just as the right, experienced horses for the course. There are horses by the dozen for Indian courses but the away courses have not yet been happy for the colts. The benching of the senior pros could be postponed by one series in this context.
Moreover, the specific ‘plus’-es of Dravid and Ganguly (and even Laxman’s catching, for that matter) come into play so much more in Australian conditions.
Let us ignore that all. Now we go to their ‘minus’-es, i.e. lack of the commonly accepted pluses. Since both were dropped after a very short run of failure in ODIs and don’t look likely to be considered for a re-admission we can safely attribute their dismissal to their minus-es which can no more be improved unlike form.
Surely we can then safely assume the chosen few for the ODI side for the tri-series to have those ‘plus’-es.
Let us check up on the facts with the names in the announced squad. We will call them the ‘Future Guys’. Bowlers first.
Plus: Virtually None - not much batting, was not impressive in the outfield in the last series he played, is coming back from injury
Plus: Virtually None - not much batting, not the quickest outfielder.
Plus: None - No batting at all, quick legs but lousy outfielder.
Plus: batting has never clicked in international matches, but a good outfielder.
Plus: Has developed into a very good outfielder, good runner between wickets
Plus 2:. Very capable with the bat
Praveen Kumar is unknown to me. Harbhajan is an adequate selection displaying some plusses for his lower order batting and decent outfielding in ODIs.
The batsmen’s list: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Dinesh Karthik, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma.
All the batsmen are good outfielders, and most are good runners between wickets. Some are excellent catchers.
So even if the omission of Ganguly & Dravid looks unjustified if we look at the bowlers, it looks less debatable when we see the people they are competing with. If some of these guys can perform like a Ganguly or Dravid in his prime over the upcoming tri-series they would be justifying the selectors’ faith in them as the ‘Future Guys’. They would have then rightfully ousted the two iconic batsmen from the ODI squad simply by being better than them.
What if they do not live up to it? It has already happened once, and the same Ganguly was at the centre of it.
We will all be watching. We have been hearing this ‘blooding youngsters’ theme for sometime now. We have seen how our youngsters can be relentless in 20 over games some months back. And we have also seen in the very next ODI series against Australia how they start looking like amateurs in longer games. We have seen confirmation of it in the ongoing Test series.
We remember that these same ‘Future Guys’ fielded incompetently and batted poorly for first half of the ODI series at home against Australia. That they won two matches out of seven. That the 1st win came from the bats of Sachin & Ganguly, the second from the bats of their bowlers and they wasted the platform to win a third that was laid by – who else – Sachin and Ganguly.
It is not the fault of the ‘Future Guys’ themselves. Many of them are talented, agile and intense (enough for T20s) but have not yet acquired the stamina required for long games. Moreover Sourav and Rahul are greats – and to replace such people you must develop their successors over a period of time. You can’t just select their replacements in the hope that you will be as lucky as the guy that picked the two of them for the same trip 12 years back. The system they came up from did not ensure Sourav and Dravid were excellent by the time they played in the national team – they just turned out that way. Are we living in the hope that such players will just emerge out of nowhere?
We hope the concerned people – the selectors, the board members, all that are party to this young team theory - have studied the reasons of failure of the earlier ‘Team building for the future’ effort ahead of the 2007 world cup. We hope they have ensured that the youngsters included in the sequel to the big flop are adequately groomed. If not then I’m afraid the whole exercise, even when done with best of intentions, can look like one big and dangerous experiment quite resembling a conspiracy against the seniors to replace them with inferior players. Just as it did the last time.
Suresh Raina has already faced one such ‘battle with oldies’ in his first stint with the national team. It may not be good for people like him if they are to be declared losers in this ‘war’ the second time round. The missile, however, has been launched now.
The future of Indian cricket will look healthy if the Future Guys achieve the double bill of performing with the primary skills as well as the 'plus'-es right throughout the series. However if they do not then people representing the BCCI selection process should accept their inability to develop (as against ‘select’) replacements for the older generation in public and ask the rich board of India to arrange a detailed training for them from Cricket Australia.
Meanwhile, the effect this selection has on the team morale ahead of the Adelaide cruncher remains to be seen. I would have no doubts on the effect if Dhoni was also the Test captain. However Kumble’s absence from the ODI side should help calm down the dressing room infinitely.
PS: Let’s give the selection guys, at least one of them, some relief. Vengsarkar picked and backed Ishant Sharma all through and must be complimented for the way he identified this boy’s gift of natural bounce and accuracy.
[cross posted on Desicritics.org]