The conflicting reports of KL Rahul’s injury clearly indicate that transparency is very low in the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) scheme of things.
One report claimed that it was a hand injury sustained during the Vizag Test which sidelined him, while another stated that it was a recurrence of a leg injury and that it had come to the fore when he batted in the nets prior to the Mohali Test.
It is possible that the team did not want to alert the opposition of injury to its key batsman and thus give them time to prepare plans to counter his replacement. But in today's times, professional analysts who accompany an international team would have done their homework not only on the expected playing eleven, but also on at least another 10 to 15 players in the opposite team. Thus, they would have all details and features of debutant Karun Nair’s batting prowess at the click of a mouse.
Occasionally, the abrupt loss of a key player could demoralise the team; just as it could pep up the opposition. But this is usually in the shorter format of the game where catching an opponent momentarily off guard has its uses. A classic example is the eleventh hour withdrawal of Pakistan skipper Wasim Akram from the 1996 World Cup quarterfinal tie against India in Bangalore.
Even his team was unaware that he was not fit and him pulling out right before the toss upset their composition. India were equally surprised and hence failed to capitalise at the top of the batting. But they made up for it during the death overs when his absence made slog overs batsman Ajay Jadeja’s task easier and consequently tilted the balance.] in India's favour.
But in Mohali and in the context of India-England Tests, the puzzling aspect is not the outcome of the match or the choice of stop-gap personnel, but the manner in which the selection committee has gone about its duties.
Following the Vizag Test they named the squad for the last three matches. However, immediately after, Wriddhaman Saha pulled was out of the third Test citing a thigh injury. How is it that the selection committee was not aware of the injury before they chose the team? Or did they do so that despite being aware of the injury?
It is unclear whether Saha was declared unfit by the trainer or he himself stood down. If it was the former, then the selectors probably did not consult the team coach who would have had inputs from his support staff. Or did they talk about everything else except player fitness?
It would be a sad day for Indian cricket if selectors were to be repeatedly caught napping on fitness and selection issues.
The Rahul injury is worrying as well. If it is a recurring injury then it has hit him thrice now – the first during the fag end of the Sri Lanka tour, again during the series against New Zealand and now ahead of the Mohali Test. If he was previously injured twice in a short span of time, was it not prudent for the team to have had a regular opening batsman on standby?
Opening the batting in Tests against a top notch new ball attack is a task for specialists. Parthiv Patel, who in Rahul’s absence is expected to open the innings with the more accomplished Murali Vijay against the likes of James Anderson, is at best an occasional opening batsman. He’d be more at home in that position in T20 cricket rather than in Tests where a cordon of slips would be waiting to latch on to edges off his flashy drives.
But more than the success or failures of the make-shift players, the disappointment is with the absence of process despite a lot of big talk. Selectors should have been on the ball before grandly announcing the team for three Tests. Better co-ordination with coach and support staff could have sussed out the fitness levels of players.
And while on the subject, pray, what is Ishant Sharma doing in the reserves? He too has just come out of an injury and has played just one Ranji Trophy match as test of his fitness levels, and is therefore severely under cooked. If he is not in the playing eleven for India, he should have been asked to go and play for Delhi and work himself into form and get match-fit. After all, there is already a cover for the fast bowlers – Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami – in the form of Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Finally the selectors not calling upon opening batsman Gautam Gambhir from nearby Delhi as a replacement for Rahul tells its own tale.