CT 2017: Should Indian selectors have given youngsters like Rishabh Pant a look in than playing it safe?

"Say those three magical words"
"Indian Team Selected"
*cue outrage*

As usual, an Indian team selection has sent the nation into collective outrage. With the long wait for selectors to announce the team and with IPL performances of those left out still fresh in mind, fan frenzy is as high as ever. Remember the first game this team will play is against Pakistan. They better get the selection right for that!

The current selection committee headed by MSK Prasad has already formed a reputation of playing it safe and backing their players after layoffs. Picking Wriddhiman Saha in the Test squad right after his comeback despite a good show from Parthiv Patel was a case in point. In a committee, it's a good practice to set policy and expectations and you can't fault this selection committee on that. Their picks for Champions Trophy are as predictable as they are safe.

The Indian cricket team during the 1st ODI of the series against England at Pune in January, 2017. AFP

The Indian cricket team during the 1st ODI of the series against England at Pune in January, 2017. AFP

The fast bowlers and seam bowling all-rounders pick themselves. Mohammed Shami, when fit, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah are without a doubt India's best fast bowling options. Hardik Pandya is now a more than handy seamer, a capable big-hitter and a live wire on the field.

You couldn't have picked more than two spinners for early summer conditions in England and the selectors have again preferred auto select mode there with Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. You can easily argue to have a wrist spinner like Yuzvendra Chahal or Kuldeep Yadav, but remember the 'playing safe' formula? Ashwin hasn't had any white ball cricket practice in a while and will get only two practice games before playing Pakistan in India's Champions Trophy opener. In Anil Kumble's regime, they have made it a policy to not pick any players without a few domestic games under their belt, but in this case, Ashwin wasn't injured but rested and you would expect a champion performer like him to be back in his stride quickly.

Jadeja seems to be struggling with his bowling in the IPL at the moment, not even finishing his quota of overs regularly, but again, you may expect to see a different beast in India colours. His fielding also makes it hard to keep him out of the side. If I were a selector, I would have picked Krunal Pandya ahead of him. He has really impressed in this year's IPL with his subtle bowling variations and great temperament both with a bat and ball in his hand.

That leaves us with the batsmen where the debate is the fiercest. India's batting pool is quite rich at the moment with several players knocking hard on the door, but the selectors refrained from sending any alarms to the dressing room by introducing an unfamiliar face in an ICC tournament.

You can understand where the selectors are coming from. The stage is too big to start a greenfield project. But does this batting line-up really select itself? Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane and Yuvraj Singh are capable batsmen who can win games single-handedly on their day but none of them are automatic choices in the ODI team and may be under pressure themselves knowing that their limited-overs future may be at stake. A couple of fearless youngsters can do wonders to the team's morale. If you think ICC tournaments aren't the right place for them, then go back and youtube India's 2007 World T20 campaign. If you want examples, then look no further than Yuvraj and Zaheer Khan who both made their debuts in the ICC Knockout in 2000 and were stand out players in India's campaign, that saw them finish as runners-up.

At the end of the day, you can't grudge the selectors for picking a squad like this. They are far from a "bunch of jokers" that Mohinder Amarnath once called them. Since the days of Sourav Ganguly, most players have come into the squad and got an extended run before going out of favour. A stable dressing room has been part of the reason for India's success over the past decade.

But then a national sports team isn't an exclusive club. There has to be a way for players to break into that dressing room. Runs in domestic cricket don't count according to some since the pitches are flat and bowlers are hapless. Didn't Jadeja make triple hundreds in Ranji Trophy? IPL performances are easy to run down too as one-off.

Giving an extended run to players has become too much of a holy grail for India's selection. With a larger talent pool and a smaller gap in quality between IPL and international cricket, selectors can pick and drop players on form a bit more now. You won't be lonely and forlorn now if you are dropped from the Indian squad, you can still go back to your IPL team and continue to be in the reckoning for a comeback.

A player like Rishabh Pant who has had a breakthrough domestic season and a handy IPL warrants a place in the team as a dangerous low order batsman. He is about the same age as Yuvraj when he made his debut. Young Indian batsmen do well when they are thrown into the limelight at an early age. They can develop bad habits if they continue to bully domestic attacks for too long. A few games at the highest level can help them understand deficiencies in their game and work on it before it's too late. Virender Sehwag was out leg before against Shoaib Akhtar in his first ODI game, realised he was too slow for international quality pace bowling and worked on his game to come back one-and-a-half year later and made the international stage his own. You won't know what a player is capable of unless you throw him in the deep water.

For now, let's hope India's current squad does well in England and the selectors show more imagination in India's bilateral series that follow the Champions Trophy.

Published Date: May 08, 2017 17:28 PM | Updated Date: May 08, 2017 18:51 PM

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