Trial and error

2007 Feb 01 by DreamCricket

Filling the borderline places in the Indian squad is more important than winning matches in the near term.

The Indian team’s preparation for the World Cup is in its final lap and has reached a stage where finding the right combination and filling the borderline places in the squad is more important than winning matches – with due respect to Vince Lombardi.

Greg Chappell himself has realized this. In an interview to a national daily recently he touched upon this aspect by specifically pointing out to the Chennai ODI against the West Indies which India lost. Conceding that the team India fielded in that game was not the best that could have been picked – remember that Dhoni, Ganguly, Harbhajan and Zaheer sat out – he hit the nail on the head by saying that the time had come to identify players in specific roles and give youngsters who are on the threshold of selection the big break. ``They should be thrown at the deep end of the pool’’ he said.

The team management is striking the right note in resting some of the certainties and trying their best to fill up the few places still up for grabs with deserving young talent. As Rahul Dravid has said the selection committee has come close to choosing the squad of 15 from 17 or 18 players. ``We are pretty close to where we want to be. We want players who can adapt to different conditions and wickets and we are getting these kinds of players’’ the Indian captain has said.

Robin Uthappa is a case in point. Had the selectors stuck to a more conventional plan the dashing 21-year-old Coorg-born opening batsman would have been out in the cold. The resting of Ganguly gave him the opportunity and he made the most of it. Now at least we all know that there is an alternative to any established opening partnership should it fail to deliver.

It would be a good idea if the policy of resting senior cricketers or certainties is continued in the series against Sri Lanka. It would do Indian cricket no harm if Dravid, Tendulkar and Agarkar for example miss a couple of matches. Also it is imperative that Yuvraj Singh should bat higher up the order in the games against Sri Lanka. He is the only established batsman who is still finding his bearings thanks to the injury that kept him out for a long period. He is a key member of the Indian middle order and it is important that he get some runs to regain his confidence before the World Cup.

In the ultimate analysis long term planning is preferred to short term gains. My mind goes back to 1969 when Vijay Merchant as chairman of the selection committee had definite views about the future belonging to the youth. In the twin Test series against New Zealand and Australia during the 1969-70 season he gave the India cap to as many as eight youngsters. India was exceptionally lucky to square the three-match contest against New Zealand while the series against Australia was lost. Merchant took the criticism that followed on his chin and remained unruffled. He persevered with the policy the following year and the result was the greatest year in Indian cricket – the India Rubber Year of 1971 when India won historic rubbers first in the West Indies and then in England. Some of the players blooded by Merchant played a notable role in the twin triumphs – a vindication of his far sighted policy.

Nearly 40 years later Greg Chappell has also warned of ignoring youth at one’s peril. It is obvious that the Indian team – like Australia – has players who are in the evening of their great careers. Managing the transition period will be a crucial exercise but at least a start has been made along the right lines.