50-50 may be the ideal first reaction to a close run-out call in cricket or in a KBC program. But what does it say of a selection committee if it goes by the same fence-sitting, indecisiveness while choosing replacements for two injured cricketers?
KL Rahul’s hamstring injury and Ishant Sharma’s fitness issues opened up two spots in the Indian squad of 15 for the second Test against New Zealand starting on Friday. And the new selection committee, probably on the backfoot after media criticism of its limited Test-playing experience, went for the 50-50 option – a veteran and one fresh talent to fill the slots.
While the inclusion of the 26-year-old Haryana off spinner-batsman Jayant Yadav is to be welcomed as an investment worth making for the future, the recall of veteran Gautam Gambhir who’d turn 35 in a month’s time is a surprise.
Gambhir may not get to play the Eden Gardens Test, if only because there are already two first-choice opening batsmen – Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan – in the squad. In which case what purpose would he serve or be benefited by warming the benches?
On the other hand, a young cricketer could have soaked in the atmosphere both in the stadium and observed the stars, and it would have richly enhanced his experience. He could have turned out to be a long-term investment.
The 13 Tests at home this winter presented an extraordinary opportunity to groom an Indian team for the future and for tougher tests abroad. The presence of experienced batsmen in skipper Virat Kohli, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Dhawan would have allowed the selectors to grab the chance to blood young batsmen who would have matured in a year or two.
But the retrogressive move to recall a veteran who could hardly be expected to be around for long in international cricket was a terrible waste of an opportunity.
The argument that in a long season the team might need the services of veterans in case of loss of form or injuries to key players cuts no ice. Particularly when these veterans are decidedly on the downhill.
Gambhir was recalled to Test cricket in 2014 after spending close to two years in the wilderness. His last four scores against England were horrendous -- 4, 18, 0 and 3. Besides, he looked distinctly uncomfortable on English pitches.
Of course, Gambhir has served Indian cricket pretty well in the past. In his 12-year career he has played 56 Tests for an average of 42.58. At his best he was described by Virender Sehwag as India’s premier opening batsman.
But all that was in the distant past. Recently, before his recall, much was made of his Duleep Trophy form where he scored four 50s in his tally of 356 runs. Nobody said anything of the quality of the opposition bowling where huge totals were almost the order of the tournament. Even otherwise, fellow opener Mayank Agarwal who is in his mid-20s had a more productive tournament accumulating 420 runs at an average of 84 in three matches, while fellow left-hander opener Abhinav Mukund strung together a better average; 82.66 to Gambhir’s 71.2.
Thus it was not as if Gambhir set the Yamuna on fire in the Duleep Trophy. Yet he finds himself in the 15-man squad while the other two mentioned above don’t.
Part of the issue was the selection of the India A team on the tour to Australia that concluded earlier this month. Had that selection been imaginative, a number of young batsmen in their teens and early to mid-20s could have been tried out.
Instead the BCCI sent out a few players who were in their 30s which, incidentally was past the age where they could imbibe much. Not unexpectedly some of these players flopped and a golden chance to be a feeder to the Indian team was lost. (What poor Rahul Dravid did as coach and mentor with a team of near veterans is another matter altogether).
Luckily, Jayant Yadav was part of that team Down Under and did enough to warrant another look. But the same cannot be said of many of the others. Unfortunately, Indian cricket or selectors never learn from their mistakes and are hence doomed to repeat them all over again.
Thus, India is saddled with a Gambhir who is in the twilight of his career. If he makes a lot of runs, which is unlikely because he may not be in the playing eleven, there would be nothing to gain long term from it. If he fails, well, the selectors and he fail while a potential talent would be kept away a tad longer.