The Indian team is currently in a period of transition and the need of the hour is to look forward and not back. A blend of youth and experience is the right mix but right now the squad has the right dose of experience which means that for the remaining slots the focus should be on talented youth who can serve Indian cricket for long.
There is no need to turn the clock back but that’s exactly what the selectors have done in picking the two squads for the Test series against New Zealand and the Twenty20 team for the World Cup to be held in Sri Lanka next month.
Certainly the twin selections raise more questions than providing answers. Did Harbhajan Singh deserve a recall - and specifically in the T20 squad? What is Suresh Raina doing in the Test squad after repeated failures? And why drag Piyush Chawla out of the wilderness?
As far as Rohit Sharma is concerned, his game is more suited like Cheteshwar Pujara’s for Test cricket and on the basis of his horrendous run in the ODI series in Sri Lanka he certainly doesn’t deserve a place in the T20 squad. And where is Rahul Sharma who is widely considered as the next best thing that could happen to Indian spin bowling? He doesn’t find a place in either side.
The Indian spin bowling cupboard while not being exactly bare is a cause for alarm. In the last few years Pragyan Ojha, Piyush Chawla and Amit Mishra have been tried in both Tests and ODIs and have not really been successful. Ravichandran Ashwin for all his limitations is the king pin right now. At least he is a youngster worth investing in for he is progressing along the right lines.
His bowling has enough variety though he is guilty of trying too many things - sometimes in the same over. His batting is an added asset – let’s not forget he is only one of three Indians to get a hundred and take five wickets in an innings in a Test – and while he may not be the most athletic player around he has done enough in the past year to be a certainty in the scheme of things in both Tests and limited overs cricket.
Ojha’s most visible strength is his steadiness and if he is not exactly penetrative – as underlined by his stats – he is not a bowler who can be taken to the cleaners. But the best bet for the future is still Rahul Sharma and there is little doubt that he should be given every opportunity to prove that he is as skillful as he is talented. The selectors have sent the wrong signals by omitting him from the Test squad and picking Chawla in his place.
There is very little that Harbhajan has done in the past year to warrant a comeback. In any case if it was to be a return it should have been in the Test squad and not the T20 team. Chawla who is very lucky to have made both sides has not played a Test since April 2008. In just two Tests he has picked up only three wickets at an average of 45.66. So much for his credentials!
Two other cricketers who are rather fortunate to make the cut are Raina and Rohit. After his disastrous series in Sri Lanka where he scratched around for 13 runs in five matches at a pathetic average of 2.60 one wonders what Rohit’s confidence level would be. It would have been better to allow him to go back to the drawing board, sort out of his problems and then fight his way back into the Indian team.
Raina after his hundred on debut in Sri Lanka two years has failed repeatedly at the Test level and for a specialist batsman to have an average of under 30 after 15 matches – following that great start - is unacceptable. In limited overs cricket of course he is in a class of his own.
Ajinkya Rahane arguably the brightest young star on the Indian batting firmament deservedly finds a place in the Test squad but misses out from the T20 team. He has the game for both formats and like a few others should have been included in the World Cup squad too.
The return of Lakshmipathi Balaji for the trip to Sri Lanka may raise a few eyebrows especially considering the fact that he last played for India 3-1/2 years ago. But he has obviously been rewarded for a successful IPL season.
It is also good to see Ishant Sharma back in the Test squad though once he is fit Varun Aaron is sure to figure in the selectors’ list. And on current form Irfan Pathan should have made both squads. He is in the midst of a strong comeback and the one player who could turn out to be the genuine all-rounder Indian cricket has been praying for should be given every opportunity to display his ubiquitous skills.
Despite doubts in certain quarters there was never any chance that VVS Laxman would be dropped. He might have had a shocking double tour of England and Australia but his record at home has remained impressive. There is little doubt however that failure in the two Test series against New Zealand will hasten calls for him to follow Rahul Dravid into the sunset.
The recall of Yuvraj Singh is most welcome. Once he was physically fit and his confidence level restored he was always going to be an automatic choice.
Finally one wonders what point the selectors wanted to make by giving back the vice captaincy for the T20 squad to Gautam Gambhir. Just a few months ago Virat Kohli superseded him and from all accounts was a popular choice given his rising stature in international cricket. Why then this needless flip flop?