By Karthik Parimal
Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Piyush Chawla and Laxmipathy Balaji are names you’d expect in an India A squad that will be touring New Zealand shortly, primarily because the above mentioned players either require match practice or an opportunity to strike form. However, the Indian selectors, yet again, successfully managed to raise quite a few eyebrows by including them in the T20 squad that will head to Sri Lanka for the World Cup that begins next month. Based on the performances of few of the aforesaid players since the past few months, it’s safe to say that merit wasn’t the only criteria in their selection, and that popularity and emotions were also probably considered. What else could explain the inclusion of Harbhajan, Chawla and Balaji, who’ve done little to show that they are worthy of donning the national colours again in the near future.
Harbhajan last played for India in any format more than one year ago and was eventually dropped from the side after a string of poor performances. Thereafter, his progress has remained stagnant and his figures in the domestic or first-class matches have not depicted any signs of resurrection. The fact that he can be drafted into the side based on his performances during the Indian Premier League (IPL) too sounds baffling. He bowled 54 overs throughout that tournament, conceded 384 runs and picked just six wickets at a pathetic average of 64 and an economy rate of 7.11. His stint with Essex too has remained unfruitful thus far, with only two 3-wicket hauls to his name. None of these figures justify his inclusion in the side.
The fact that Chawla was selected over both Rahul Sharma and Pragyan Ojha is astonishing too. Like Harbhajan, he too has done little to merit the recall. Chawla played his last One-Day International game during the 2011 World Cup against Netherlands and his last T20 game over two years ago against the Zimbabweans at Harare. Since then, he was ousted from the side for conceding too many runs and crumbling under pressure. He had a decent IPL, picking 16 wickets in as many games, but nothing strong enough to support his case for inclusion in the squad to the T20 World Cup. His outings in the Ranji Trophy and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy weren’t outstanding either. Moreover, he featured well behind the likes of Pragyan Ojha, Amit Mishra and Iqbal Abdulla, whose names weren’t even considered by the selection committee.
Parvinder Awana, Siddharth Trivedi miles ahead of Balaji in performance
If Harbhajan and Chawla’s selection was baffling, the inclusion of Balaji was a complete shocker. He had a decent outing for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) during the fifth edition of the IPL, but even then was behind Parvinder Awana and Siddharth Trivedi in that list. If Balaji was really chosen based on his IPL performances, then it’s difficult to comprehend the exclusion of Awana and Trivedi, since the two bowlers are miles ahead compared to the former in every aspect of bowling, at least since the last one year. Awana’s figures in the Ranji Trophy and Trivedi’s statistics in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy are proof of that.
Furthermore, very few will succeed in understanding the exclusion of Umesh Yadav from the Indian line-up. Hasn’t he done enough to prove that his raw pace can be a thorn in the flesh of the opposition? Agreed, he tends to leak runs during some junctures of the game, but are there any signs that suggest Balaji can be more efficient with his gentle medium pace on lifeless Sri Lankan pitches when compared to Yadav? If the Indian think tank really believed in giving an extended run to all its players to find form, why not apply the same logic in the case of Yadav, Ojha or Rahul Sharma? For once, it’d be interesting to get into the heads of the selectors and find the theory behind picking Balaji.
Last but not the least, Yuvraj’s addition to the squad too could prove to be hasty. The unfortunate lay-off has been long and hence there’s a possibility that he could be short of match practice and even match fitness. Two T20 internationals before the World Cup hardly counts as an ideal preparation and only time will tell if the right decision has been made. God forbid, if he fails to deliver during the two T20s against New Zealand, the Indians will no doubt be apprehensive about fielding him during the World Cup. What this eventually means is that a spot would have been wasted, and the opportunity to play someone as efficient as Ajinkya Rahane is also lost.
Yuvraj has proved his critics wrong ample number of times in the past. But it’s a known fact that recuperating from a rare germ cell cancer is not as easy as recovering from flu. Whether he has the ammunition to deliver, like he did during the 2011 ODI World Cup, remains to be seen. Considering the short time frame, there are long odds of that happening in the upcoming T20 World Cup, but nothing can be ruled out in sport.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. His zeal for writing and love for the sport of cricket is what has brought him here. Karthik can also be followed on Twitter)