Selectors in the hot seat with quandaries aplenty
Now in its second term, the selection committee led by Kris Srikkanth has to, for the first time, make many tough decisions at the same time when they meet to select the team for the ODI series against Australia. They have so far been lucky in many aspects: they were handed over a more or less settled-looking team, and two of the big players chose to retire when the time came to make hard decisions regarding them. And all the while the Indian team had not done badly either.
But during the World Twenty20 in England, just after the second season of the IPL, a few roadblocks appeared. First, injuries came around, then the selectors found out that the younger stars were having trouble facing quality fast bowling on helpful pitches. With Zaheer Khan out they struggled to find three fast bowlers as well, who could consistently do the job for them. After a first-round exit in the Champions Trophy, the fast bowlers are low on confidence, the allrounder slot is a big gaping hole, and what do they do with Rahul Dravid on flat Indian pitches? The selectors have more problems to get around on Thursday than they have perhaps done in their whole term so far.
Previously, they brought back two left-arm fast bowlers based on their performance in the IPL, and their strike-rate is 50% on that count.
While Ashish Nehra has come out of nowhere to lead the pace attack, it is hard to believe that RP Singh can keep Praveen Kumar out of the playing XI and Munaf Patel out of the squad.
Even against unheralded batsmen in the Corporate Trophy, RP struggled, but found a ticket to Sri Lanka and South Africa. It's only natural that he makes way for Munaf.
But there is a bigger question the selectors need to answer, a more philosophical one at that. Ishant Sharma has struggled in limited-overs cricket and should be preserved for Tests which - on evidence of his short career so far - seem to be his true calling? It is unfair to expect a 21-year-old to give up the money and fame that limited-overs cricket in India brings, so who tells him that the management sees him more for five-day cricket, which isn't at the top of the Indian public's priorities?
Or are the selectors of the view that Ishant should be left to struggle and learn, which will help him emerge as a better all-round bowler? If that is the case, how long do they persist with him? Sudeep Tyagi, who impressed the selectors in the Challenger Trophy, will no doubt spend an anxious night and early morning.
In the batting department, imminent returns to fitness for Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh spell more confusion. Virat Kohli and Dinesh Karthik, their replacements, should make way unless the selectors suddenly find themselves not knowing what to do with Dravid, who was called back to provide stability to a slightly suspect middle order. Former players and experts are already being asked questions about the merits of selecting or dropping Dravid, which means many sense his place is not certain. If the selectors feel likewise, it will be a shame because it will only show a lack of planning when taking the bold step of calling back the 36-year-old.
Then there is Rohit Sharma. He is back to full fitness, playing the Champions League, but he didn't miss the tour to Sri Lanka and the subsequent Champions Trophy because of injury: he was dropped.
Yusuf Pathan, who seems to be stuck at the thankless No. 7 position in the batting order, hasn't done enough justice to the allrounder's slot. In his last 11 innings he has reached double-figures twice, and in 30 matches overall he has sent down 111.2 overs, which doesn't reflect his captain's faith in his bowling. Yuvraj, by comparison, has bowled 120.4 in his last 30 matches. Trouble is, Yusuf's brother Irfan, whose exclusion for Sri Lanka and the Champions Trophy in favour of Abhishek Nayar was baffling in the first place, is now out with injury.
Nayar, upon his selection, has been used for one out of six possible matches, and against West Indies too, he bowled just three overs. To make matters worse, he scored seven in his two innings in the Challenger Trophy, and went for 21 in his two overs in two matches. His captain, MS Dhoni again, chose to use him sparingly. If this reluctance to utilise Nayar, coupled with Yusuf's form, is taken into account then there could be two slots vacant. Ravindra Jadeja can take one. The other incumbent could hold on to his place, or a batsman who can bowl a bit as well, like Rohit, can fit in.
This will be a selection that will reveal a lot about the mindsets of Srikkanth and his colleagues, and their quality. It's a shame, though, that the one time they will make for interesting listening, the selectors - due to BCCI's policy - will not be allowed to share their motives and thinking