The selection of the Indian cricket squad ought to have been a fairly simple exercise. Anybody, from a knowledgeable groundsman to a former Test cricketer, would have identical 11 to 12 players on their list. It is the other three to four players which could vary, depending on perceptions, preferences and perceived utility or potential.
Thus India’s senior selection committee entrusted with the task of picking the national team could have done it in a jiffy. Their job was to choose a team which could deliver wins and at the same time be a finishing school to nurture and groom potential stars.
Of course it goes without saying that not every selector has the ability to spot and nurture talent. Additionally, he has to do this job without bias. It is for this reason that the best selectors are often those who can perfectly time the induction and removal of players from a team.
The finest examples of inspired selections are Sachin Tendulkar, Malcolm Marshall and more recently, Kuldeep Yadav.
Tendulkar was a mere 16-year-old teenager when he was taken on a tough tour of Pakistan and blooded against the fiery pace attack of Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and Imran Khan. His development and exploits are too well known to warrant repetition.
Likewise, Marshall was a short, 18-year-old kid who had played just one first class match when the Windies selectors saw something in him and sent him to India. They persisted with him even after the fearsome quartet of Andy Roberts and company returned. Marshall soon eclipsed all the great West Indian fast bowlers to eventually become one of the most dreaded pacers in the history of the game.
However, mere induction of talented youngsters is not the only challenge. The dropping of seasoned cricketers also calls for a lot of courage of conviction. For instance, the selectors had to know when to let go of iconic cricketers, Virendra Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, et al. Even earlier, the dropping of Mohinder Amarnath, Kris Srikkanth, Syed Kirmani caused a lot of heartburn but selectors had to take tough decisions in the interest of the game.
Sometimes selectors badly botch up things. It is then that one wonders whether they are doing their job with any conviction or allowing themselves to be pushed around.
Take the case of Ashish Nehra. The first question that comes to mind when seeing his name in the team list for the series of T20Is against Australia is: Is the Indian pace bowling cupboard so bare that a player in his 39th year needs to be recalled?
Nehra has not played a Test since 2004. Yes, 2004! He has not played an ODI since 2011. The last Ranji Trophy match he played was in 2013. Even in T20Is, he was cast to the wilderness in 2011 but was surprisingly brought back in 2016. He did nothing of note then or subsequently to warrant a recall.
Nehra’s bowling mates of his 2011 T20 international match, Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel, Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan are all history. They might play IPL cricket but barring Ravichandran Ashwin, none of them are in contention for berth in the Indian team.
Nehra too should not been in contention given that there is a wealth of pace bowling talent around.
Nehra is a rabbit with the bat and a pathetic fielder. Thus, he brings no special skills to the pitch beyond those four overs he might send down. Most of the other pace bowling options, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav are highly experienced, having played IPL cricket for a decade and they don’t need his guidance. Nor is Nehra an investment for the future.
Sure he might pick up a clutch of wickets but that does not take away anything from the fact that the selectors have goofed big time in choosing him.
It is possible that the skipper and coach would have asked for the veteran. But it is still the selectors’ call. It is their job to choose the team to not only win this series but set the tone for future matches.
The argument that Tendulkar too played till he was close to 40 years of age does not cut ice. Tendulkar was in the thick of things, be it the national team, Ranji Trophy or other events right through. Nehra, on the other hand, has been preserved in ice post the IPL.
Nehra might be bringing variety to the bowling attack in the form of his left arm pace. But the selectors could so easily have groomed someone younger who could be of use on future tours. Selecting and persisting with an ageing, average pace bowler at a time when there are plenty of better, younger pace bowlers around is a blunder.
MSK Prasad and other selectors must realise they cannot take the easy way out. They might not have played a lot of Test cricket. But that is no excuse to allow themselves to be bullied. They have been entrusted with the responsibility of looking after the interests of Indian cricket and they must strive to do just that. In short, they will be failing in their duty if they cannot shoot down unreasonable demands, whichever quarter it might come from.
The selection of Nehra was a step backward and in no way enriches Indian cricket. Surely, MSK and his colleagues would know that the future of Indian cricket does not lie in the hands of a 38-year-old veteran fast bowler. Hopefuly they are not waiting for a CoA or a Lodha to tell them that. Time to get your act right, MSK.
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