India's T20I team selection is myopic...
Raj Singh Dungarpur did the unthinkable when he gave a young Sachin Tendulkar a go during a Test series in Pakistan in 1989. Anil Kumble never turned a cricket ball but was still chosen for India’s tour to England in 1990 even before he turned 20. Both of them turned out to be the highest run scorer and highest wicket- taker for India in Tests respectively. They were raw and untested, yet the selectors showed faith in their talent and gave them an opportunity and the rest is history.
So, did the selectors get it right this time around?
Sunil Gavaskar tore into the selectors for dropping Ajinkya Rahane saying that he had scored four fifties in the recent ODI series against Australia and should have been given another chance. However, Rahane has played 20 T20Is and has scored just a solitary fifty with a batting strike rate of just 113.29. Even in T20s overall, his batting strike rate is just 118.54 and he is unlikely to make the playing XI if Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma are fit.
Moreover, his former captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has said that he struggles to rotate strike in the middle overs when the ball gets soft and Rahane isn't the best to execute the big hits when he comes in the middle order. So, his non-selection was indeed the right decision.
The selectors job is a thankless one and they have to balance their selection by choosing players on current form, long term perspective and potential. They need to select an ideal blend of youth and experience and some untried players who have the ‘X’ factor. The can't play it safe and make obvious choices always, without a touch of risk and experimentation.
Team India's bench strength at present is by far the best we ever had. Not since the days of Greg Chappell (2005-2007) have opinions been so polarized and selections been so scrutinized. While selecting a team for ODIs and T20Is, selections need to have a long-term objective taking into account the next world event in that format.
For instance, take the case of Dhoni. The former skipper has undoubtedly been one of India’s greatest players in ODIs but his record in T20Is is a bit underwhelming by his own high standards. While his keeping is sound, his batting strike rate is just 123.29. Players like Jos Buttler, Brendon McCullum, Luke Ronchi and Adam Gilchrist have batting strike rates of 141.34, 139.09, 141.33 and 141.66, respectively. So, while Dhoni is one of the fittest players in world cricket his performances in T20Is have not been spectacular.
The selectors have said that he needs to perform consistently to make the keeper's spot his own for the 2019 World Cup. What the selectors have not factored in their calculations is that if they don’t find Dhoni capable in a year’s time they don’t have a meritorious understudy to fill his big shoes.
That is why it would have been the ideal time to give Rishabh Pant a go in this three- match bilateral T20I series to see if he has the ability to perform at the world stage and if he has the bottle and nerve to adjust to the cauldron of international cricket. This way they could have gauged whether he is ready for a longer run in international cricket. Even the selection of Dinesh Karthik is a regressive step and either Pant or Sanju Samson should have been blooded in his place. Dhoni should still be persisted in ODIs, but in T20Is others could be tried out.
As far as the selection of Ashish Nehra is concerned, even that could be called a blunder as he is 38. While there is a saying that age is just a number, and Nehra is still fit enough to play for India, he is a unidimensional cricketer who doesn’t contribute with the bat and is a liability on the field.
Moreover with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, the best among T20 bowlers in the world, Nehra might not make the playing XI and an opportunity has been missed to give a young pace bowler a chance to share the dressing room with the established stars. The next World T20 is in February 2020 and it is unlikely that Nehra will feature in that.
Even if the selectors have written the obituary of all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, which would be a hasty decision as he is a brilliant fielder and had just one bad series in the Champions Trophy, they could have tried out Krunal Pandya as the left-arm spinner in the squad in place of Axar Patel.
Krunal has been brilliant in the last two seasons in the IPL, and had an economy rate of 6.82 and a batting strike rate of 135.75 in the 2017 edition of the IPL which are good numbers.
While everyone knows what Axar brings to the table this would have been an ideal opportunity to blood Krunal. Ian Chappell has said that a player needs to be cricket-fit and not have the fitness levels of a tri-athlete. Should the selectors have given both Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh a go and then decided whether their fitness was up to the mark required in international cricket?
It is easy for armchair critics to play devil’s advocate and second guess the selectors but in my opinion they have played safe in the selection of the T20I squad and could have been a bit more adventurous in choosing the team particularly in meaningless bilateral series which lacks context.
The author tweets@ravivenkat007