The Sandeep Patil led selection committee, which has been taking some bold steps since they took over some six months ago, have continued to look forward while picking the 30 probables for the Champions Trophy to be held in England in June.
So often have we seen selection committees take a step forward by giving a couple of youngsters their big break and then following some failures they turn the clock back and opt again for the same senior players they had thrown out in the first place.
Patil and his team are determined not to take the same retrograde step and fully aware that there are many talented young cricketers around are prepared to give them all avenues through which they can display their varied gifts.
That Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan have not been considered even among the list of probables for the Champions Trophy is a move that deserves whole hearted commendation.
Dropping long established stars who have outlived their shelf life is a step generally associated with selectors from other countries. In India there is always some sort of aura over cricketing superstars who have performed admirably for many years even when it is clear that their best days are behind them.
That is why selectors have generally handled them with kid gloves and have been reluctant to show them the door. The present selection committee has shown a refreshingly different and far sighted approach and in the long run this is bound to produce results.
The three stalwarts have all been around for well over a decade and have performed great feats during outstanding careers. It’s not easy to erase from memory Sehwag’s pyrotechnics at the top of the order, Harbhajan’s accurate and penetrative spin bowling and Zaheer’s lion hearted bowling spells both the new and old balls.
They have all been match winners but as it happens to even the greatest of sportsmen, Father Time has a way of catching up sooner or later. He has certainly caught up with them as driven home by their record of late.
Sehwag has one of the best records for any batsman in ODIs with a tally of 8273 runs at an average of 35 with 15 hundreds. He is the proud holder of the highest individual score in ODIs (219) and his incredible strike rate of 104 is among the top five.
But since that astonishing double century, Sehwag has got just one half century in 11 innings. Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh are fourth and fifth in the list of top Indian wicket takers with 282 and 259 victims respectively. But in his last eight ODIs, Zaheer has picked up just seven wickets at 55 apiece. Harbhajan has not even played an ODI for almost two years.
They have played over 200 ODIs each but the diminishing returns of late has been a cause of concern. In addition, Zaheer’s injury problems are a major worry and in his 35th year things are not going to get easier on this front. Also in his 35th year, Sehwag has clearly lost much of his hand eye co ordination on which his buccaneering batsmanship is based.
Harbhajan may be a couple of months short of his 33rd birthday but his is a case of a bowler maturing early – he made his international debut when not yet 18 and achieved his greatest feat when not yet 21 - and his skills fizzing out similarly early.
The trio has been around for 12 to 15 years and the non-stop cricketing schedule has finally taken its toll. At the moment it looks extremely doubtful whether the trio will don the India cap again as none of them is an automatic choice any more for Tests too thanks to the emergence of a number of young candidates.
Indeed the selectors could have gone in for a further overhaul by omitting Gautam Gambhir too. If the yardstick for the omission of the trio has been non-performance, the same yardstick should have been used also for Gambhir who like the others has been short of runs in both Tests and ODIs. In his last ten ODIs, the Delhi left hander has hit just two half centuries.
While looking ahead, the selectors have cast the net far and wide and it is heartening to see a number of talented youngsters in the probables list. Predictably only two or three of them may make the final squad of 15 but the young guns will feel encouraged by their being named in the list of probables, something that should spur them on to greater feats.
I am particularly pleased with the inclusion of Unmukt Chand who should make the final 15 as reserve opener, Jalaj Saxena, Pervez Rasool and Shami Ahmed. It is also nice to see that Irfan Pathan is not a forgotten man though one supposes it will be difficult for him to make the touring squad.
For long he was India’s best bet for an all rounder but the emergence of Ravindra Jadeja and a number of younger fast bowlers has diminished his chances of making a comeback.