In 2007, Chief Selector Dilip Vengsarkar took an extremely bold move and sidelined the greats Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly for the T20 World Cup.
On hindsight, it could be called a very cruel move as all four of them played domestic T20 cricket in the form of IPL for many years while Tendulkar and Dravid retired just recently from this format. Imagine retiring from international T20s a good 6 years before domestic T20s!
But as they say, nothing succeeds like success. Since we won the inaugural tournament, it was a brilliant move. More importantly, it led to us picking up separate teams for Tests, ODIs and T20s after that. That’s been the greatest development in Indian cricket in recent times. The seniors concentrated on Tests and we reached the ICC No. 1 rankings with them. Another set won us the 2011 ICC ODI World Cup. This has led to an immensely bigger talent pool along with reducing the fatigue factor.
Sandeep Patil seems to share Vengsarkar’s views and as Chief Selector has embarked upon a similar move. It all started with Tendulkar again. Reports say that Patil told Tendulkar that he couldn’t guarantee his place in the ODI team and the master called it quits.
For the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy, the following seniors didn’t play: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. Again, like 2007, it seemed a huge gamble. But again, India trumped in the tournament and in hindsight, it has proved to be a brilliant move.
There are a couple of things to be noted here. For one, in the ICC Champions Trophy, as many as 14 out of 15 players got a chance to play in at least one game including the practice matches. The same team was taken to the triangular series in the West Indies and then the following five were rested for the Zimbabwe tour: captain MS Dhoni (due to injury), spinner R Ashwin and pacers Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav.
Giving credit to the team management, again like the ICC Champions Trophy, 14 out of 15 players were given at least one game and we still won 5-0.
Now if you have been following Indian cricket, then you’ll see that it’s a very rare occurrence indeed. That means that even after dropping 5 senior players before the Champions Trophy, the team management has given a chance for as many as 19 players in ODI matches in a matter of months.
There is little to fault the BCCI and one must say that they have done a pretty decent job in giving a break to youngsters. Yet, what has been the focus amidst three back-to-back ODI series/tournament victories and the giving of so many breaks to youngsters?
A look at the headlines will tell you…
Lost cap for Parvez Rasool, lost chance for Indian team. Grave injustice to Parvez Rasool. Omar Abdullah irked by Rasool's exclusion. After Omar Abdullah, Shashi Tharoor expresses disappointment. Politicians fume, former players cool on Rasool. A debut that never came.
Why Did Kashmir's Rasool Not Get a Game? How long will Rasool warm bench?
It is amazing that our new captain had to defend himself over not giving a chance to spinner Rasool. Many people wanted Rasool to be given a chance as he is our first cricketer from Kashmir, but that is not the way cricket works. Incidentally Suresh Raina also has a Kashmir connection but is not considered so by the media.
In fact, after the whole controversy, somebody has updated Raina’s Wikipedia page and now his profile begins with (at the time of writing this article, that is)… “Suresh Raina (born 27 November 1986) is currently a player of Indian Cricket Team from Rainawari, Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir now living in Rajnagar town in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh due to militancy in Kashmir province of Jammu & Kashmir.”
The section from his “Early Life” begins with… “Suresh Raina's family originally comes from an Uttar Pradeshi Rajput community. His paternal grandfather was from Uttar Pradesh but had travelled to Srinagar (Kashmir) for work. He had settled in the Rainawari district of Srinagar and adopted the surname of Raina.”
But while who is the first Kashmiri to play for India is a separate issue, critics should realize that team selection always takes place on the basis of slots like: opening batsman, middle order batsman, wicket-keeper, medium pacer etc.
Since Rasool is a spinner, he was eyeing one of the two spots that were there in the team. So the issue wasn’t whether he would emerge in the Playing XI but in the two spinner’s slots.
Amit Mishra is a not a regular spinner in the team and hence it would make sense to play him in all five matches, especially since he has been in such terrific form. He has taken a whopping 18 wickets in the series.
When a particular player takes 6 ODI wickets in a match, you congratulate him and you don’t say things like: Why didn’t you play a Kashmiri in his place?
The other slot is Sir Ravindra Jadeja. He has now emerged as a regular player and whether he should be rested in one match or not is totally the prerogative of the team management. Plus, he is in the team as an all-rounder and the captain may not think Rasool to be a fit replacement.
Interestingly Jadeja emerged as the world’s No. 1 ODI spinner in the latest ICC Rankings, the first Indian spinner to occupy this slot since the 1990s when Anil Kumble was our strike bowler.
A young captain has won his first series. A spinner came back into the team picked up a record haul. The other spinner all-rounder became No. 1. These are the three main stories of the tour and the focus should stay on that.
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/