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Sandeep Patil and Co. deserve praise

Chetan Narula | | Updated: October 7, 2015, 4:20 PM IST

The end of India's tour of Zimbabwe and the fact that the team's next full assignment is in October, means that this overly long 2012-13 season is finally over. It allows time for some reflection over almost a year of non-stop cricket. As such the report card will indicate gains and losses for the team, but this is not about the players.

It is about the off-field support they have received, from the new selection panel, headed by Sandeep Patil. Outside the boundary ropes, Indian cricket has witnessed many low-points. The BCCI administration is in melt-down and that is putting it mildly. In their tumultuous world, only the selection panel stands strong, making decisions for the better future of the Indian team. And they deserve some heady praise.

When this new bunch took over in September 2012, things were quite shaky. The New Zealand Test series was done but the question of transition loomed large. That it wasn't going to be smooth sailing was apparent in the manner VVS Laxman departed the scene in a huff. Patil and his panel started off slow, picking the same squad for the Test series against England, before things fell apart spectacularly. It was a call to change things around, with some bold decision-making. The question was, whether they had the balls for it.

This same question was lurking all the time over their predecessors. It was first raised when the Indian team was trailing 2-0 in Australia during their 2011-12 tour. The 4-0 defeat in England had come and gone, and not much had changed. The same names were picked for this overseas assignment and the batting failed again. There was one other name among them though, that of Rohit Sharma.

While much has been said about his form and temperament over all these years, the blank truth is he was in superb touch leading up to that series and should have played at least one Test. The team management (including the one selector on tour and those on conference call back home) could have made that choice. But they did not, not for the third Test, and not for the fourth one either where Virender Sehwag was the captain.

Indeed, it has all been about making those tough calls, and when one mentions Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir isn't far off. While the dasher found his vision weakening and therefore his hand-eye co-ordination suffered as the years grew, Gambhir's game was blighted with self-doubt and lack of confidence in his off-stump. To say they were given a long rope is an under-statement. The opening riddle needed to be sorted much before than January 2013, when Sehwag was first booted from the ODI team and then a month later, Gambhir was shown the door from the Test squad.

In effect, the culling of big names began in December, after the embarrassing loss to England at Kolkata. Yuvraj Singh was given his sentimental due and then dumped on lack of performance. Zaheer Khan just wasn't fit enough to lead the attack and the less said about Harbhajan Singh the better. In the post-2011 World Cup era, these were the seniors, the ones who had aided the golden decade of Indian cricket. But perhaps it was time to move on, if not for the longer run, at least in the short term.

That team selected for the Nagpur Test should then be celebrated as a marker, even if it didn't bring out the desired results, for the selectors expressed a willingness to experiment. Most importantly, they were willing to make that brave call. It is even rumoured that Patil had a chat with Sachin Tendulkar, not guaranteeing him an ODI spot whilst picking series at will. Maybe that was the catalyst for the maestro's retirement from limited-overs, maybe it wasn't.

The underlying point is that the selectors were willing to be pragmatic about it. It is also something seen in the manner they selected a young A team to tour South Africa, keeping Gambhir out, when the opener was in-line to make a comeback at Delhi against Australia (illness kept him out back then!). There is a consistency in their thought process and it has started reflecting in the on-field results. It reflects when you see
Murali Vijay get an extended run in Test cricket. Shikhar Dhawan exudes confidence at the top, making the best of his purple patch, and even Rohit Sharma is scoring runs because the management has been able to find a spot for him, one that suits his game. Ravindra Jadeja is being allowed to grow as a cricketer.

These names were given their debuts by the Kris Srikkanth panel. But the lack of will-power or foresight to gamble and experiment, especially when the chips were down, caused the down-turn witnessed in the last couple of seasons. Truth be told, the clarity in thinking-process was shockingly missing.

For example, Abhimanyu Mithun and Munaf Patel played in the Tests against West Indies in 2011, and two months later when Zaheer Khan broke down, these two bowlers weren't flown in. Instead RP Singh was brought out of refrigeration, a decision that beggared belief.

Alternately, in less than a year, with a calculated approach, the likes of Mohammad Shami and Parvez Rasool line up as bowling options even as Bhuvneshwar Kumar emerges the new big hope, backing up R Ashwin, Jadeja, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav, the birth of a new bowling attack. With Cheteshwar Pujara, Dinesh Karthik, Ambati Rayudu and Ajinkya Rahane awaiting their chance, it creates a problem of plenty in the batting department as well.
And that can only be a good thing!
First Published: August 12, 2013, 10:10 AM IST

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