Irrespective of the heights Indian cricket has touched or the depths it has plunged to over the past few years, there is a common thread that has run through all its moments of triumph and despair.
The selection panel appointed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has toed the line of its masters to the hilt, and given nothing away in the form of explanation about the choices they have made. Needless to say, this no-questions-asked situation has allowed critics to have a field day whenever the going has been difficult for MS Dhoni’s team. Patil’s predecessor K Srikkanth interacted with the media, but it’s been Silent Sandeep in this case.
The only time Patil spoke on the record was when he denied a recent newspaper story which said he spoke to Sachin Tendulkar about his future. But unlike the Sensex which has swung wildly over the past few months, Indian cricket is enjoying a bull run and all seems to be hunky-dory on the field of play. Things were remarkably different when the current senior selection panel headed by Sandeep Patil took over from Srikkanth & Co a year ago.
Fans were coming to terms with heavy away Test defeats in England (0-4) and Australia (0-4) and Indian cricket seemed to have hit its nadir. The new panel which included Patil, Syed Saba Karim, Rajinder Singh Hans, Roger Binny and Vikram Rathour clearly had a difficult task ahead, with experts of all hues gunning for Dhoni’s head.
Results plunged further when Alastair Cook’s English side came over and walloped the hosts towards the close of last year in the Test series. But, as has been the case so often, Dhoni has managed to turn things around once again, beating Australia 4-0 in the Test series, winning the Champions Trophy in England and the tri-series in the Caribbean – all in a span of nine months.
And the vision shown by Patil’s team has been cited as a major reason for this fightback. “I think the selection panel has done a wonderful job,” former chief of selectors Kiran More told MiD DAY. “They have given chances and persisted with youngsters. The results are there for all to see,” he added.
More is spot-on, given the manner in which the likes of opener Shikhar Dhawan, paceman Bhuvneshwar Kumar and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja have responded to the faith reposed in them. Dhawan and Jadeja were given opportunities previously, but now that they have delivered, some amount of credit is also due to Patil’s team.
Another player who has blossomed, at least in the shorter forms of the game, over the past few months is Rohit Sharma, who has done complete justice to the responsibility of opening the innings in one-day cricket. His performance coupled with Dhawan’s blitzkrieg, has kept established players like Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir out of the team for long enough to have fans wondering if the illustrious duo will make a comeback.
Cheteshwar Pujara’s ascent too has been visible in the past one year, as has been the case with the ever-talented Ambati Rayudu who gets another chance to showcase his skills in the forthcoming series against Australia. On the spin front, things looked challenging with Harbhajan Singh fading away gradually, but the selectors persisted with R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha and the duo have clearly not disappointed.
For all the positives that have emerged, there’s absolutely no clarity on what Patil intends to do with seniors like Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan, Sehwag and Gambhir. Yuvraj Singh too was in the same boat, but impressive performances of late have ensured he is back in the ODI side. “It’s not that the selectors don’t communicate with the players whether senior or junior. I am sure the current panel has spoken to all of the seniors and clarified what they expect from them to get back into reckoning,” said Raja Venkat, a former selector from the East Zone.
The other issue that has ensured that the rumour mills are constantly churning out stories is Sachin Tendulkar’s future. With the BCCI maintaining stoic silence and the selectors following suit, there’s no clarity about the legend’s future in the current scenario. “I feel just like most fans, the selectors believe Tendulkar can still deliver and that is why he is part of the Test side. There is nothing more to it. Whatever theories are floating around is just speculation, as Sachin himself is the best judge of his game,” said More. If only one from the current panel could come out and say it in as many words!
Some pundits reckoned Patil & Co didn’t reward Mumbai’s Wasim Jaffer with a recall despite his heroic run-making efforts for Mumbai in last season’s Ranji Trophy. The selectors opted for Murali Vijay for the home Test series against Australia and though the opener from Tamil Nadu performed well, Jaffer had good reason to feel dejected.
Recently, when he was picked as captain of West Zone for the Duleep Trophy, he brought up the sore point about not getting picked when India were losing. Despite the highs Patil’s team has experienced, critics may still point out that India have not been tested in the longest format of the game outside sub-continent conditions.
And they may have a point, as was evident after India’s twin debacle in England and Australia immediately after the World Cup triumph in 2011. A positive show in South Africa (if the series takes place) followed by good results in New Zealand will certainly raise the panel’s stock. Overall, it’s been a good 12 months for Patil & Co who are expected to take some hard decisions. How many tough calls is the moot point!
> Shikhar Dhawan’s explosive batting
> Ravindra Jadeja’s new avatar, totally unrecognisable from his previous self
> Rohit Sharma succeeding at the top of the ODI order, leaving Sehwag and Gambhir in the wilderness
> Cheteshwar Pujar excelling at number three
> Ambati Rayudu finally breaking into the Indian squad
> Ambiguity about selections persist due to absolutely no interaction with the media
> No clarity on the future of senior players leading to speculative stories about Sachin Tendulkar’s future in the Test side
> The panel’s acumen is still to be tested as far as India’s performance outside the sub-continent is concerned