Selection gaffes by the Krishnamachari Srikkanth-chaired selection committee saw Rahul Dravid open the innings for India during the recently concluded four-match Test series against England © AFP
Selection gaffes by the Krishnamachari Srikkanth-chaired selection committee saw Rahul Dravid open the innings for India during the recently concluded four-match Test series against England © AFP

 

By Suneer Chowdhary

 

Rahul Dravid was the only batsman to get more than 400 runs in the 1999 World Cup in England. Sourav Ganguly was the only other Indian batsman who did anything of note in that tournament. Ganguly is now a TV commentator, but otherwise things are no different from that championship in England 12 years ago. Dravid scored the runs, his team needed from him and he had also scored the runs his team required from the others. History repeated itself in the just-concluded four-Test series.

 

Of course, what was different this time was that Dravid opened the innings in most of the games. By the time the series was over, his reluctance was replaced by resignation to fate. But Dravid discharged his duties with great aplomb.

 

It is difficult to see Ricky Ponting or Jacques Kallis or a Younis Khan jumping the queue in a rush to bat at the top in case of one of the regular openers being indisposed. A quick check of the records, confirms the doubts: Ponting, Kallis and Younis have played a combined total of 264 Test matches and not once have they opened the innings for the side. Haven’t seen them being accused of selfishness ever. So why would Dravid want to go out of his way and bat in a position he is not too comfortable with?

 

It was because the Krishnamachari Srikkanth-chaired selection committee, for the second time in as many years, made a selection gaffe that was as senseless as a batsman walking out to face Michael Holding without an abdomen guard in place!

 

The selectors had rightly chosen three opening batsmen for the tour of England, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir as the frontline openers with Abhinav Mukund as back-up in case of injury or issues arising out of lack of form. But even before the team departed for England, Sehwag dropped out because the surgery on his shoulder still needed time to recover. In short, India were going into the series with only two openers, with Sehwag recuperating in India. That meant even before the Indians got to England, Mukund had become Gautam Gambhir’s opening partner which necessitated another back-up opening bat.

 

But the wise men of the selection committee, which is also the first such bunch to be paid a generous dollop for their services rendered to the board, failed to visualise the scenario where one of Gambhir or Mukund could either lose his form or fitness. The quirk of fate was such that it was exactly how the script panned out and by the start of the second game, neither was Sehwag’s shoulder in the right frame and nor had Gambhir recovered from his arm injury from the first game.

 

The Indians were left with no option but to get Dravid to open the innings.

 

In 2010, the Indian team had had to face a similar situation for a home Test match against South Africa. This time, Dravid had been ruled out of the game because of fitness issues and had been replaced by Murali Vijay, but the core of the issue emanated from VVS Laxman’s injury — he was 50-50 till about a couple of days before the game, but instinct said that he wouldn’t be fit in time for the game.

 

There was only one back-up batsman in the team, Rohit Sharma, who was to replace Laxman in the side. But on the morning of the Test match, even Rohit injured himself while practicing. India had to go into the match with wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha having to double up as a frontline batsman as a result of that selection error. India lost the game and by an innings.

 

It had been the same set of selectors. Can there be any rationale behind the repetition of this mistake? One can only hazard a guess, but it was just another case of taking Indian cricket and fans for granted.

 

This error was embarrassing enough, but to repeat it twice over in a span of two years needs unparalleled talent.

 

Piyush Chawla’s selection in the World Cup will remain one of the greatest mysteries in the history of international cricket – the Indian side could have well asked Munaf Patel bowl leg-spin and he would still have been a better option. Then there was the selection of Anirudha Srikkanth, son of the chairman of the selection panel, in the Emerging Players’ tournament. With a record that Anirudha has at the first-class cricket, it could take him some years before he evolves into a cricketer, let alone an emerging one.

 

Yet, on both the occasions, there was no word from the selectors on the rationale behind their decisions. No surprise then that the Indians were left to dry in the four Tests against England.

 

(Suneer is a Mumbai-based cricket writer and can be contacted at suneerchowdhary@gmail.com and Tweets here @suneerchowdhary)