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By Sunil Gavaskar
The selection of the Indian team for the first two ODI’s was the first meeting for Mohinder Amarnath as a selector. The other selectors being retained for this season means that not a lot of change in thinking will be seen. However all the selectors would have keenly watched and heard 'Jimmy' to see what his line of thinking is, and if there is an area where they think they can discern a weakness that they can use for their own reasons later on.
With selectors being remunerated and quite handsomely at that there is lesser independence than ever before especially if you have no other connection with the game. Earlier on with there being no payment for being a selector it was possible for the selectors to have their own thinking, and if that wasn’t liked then all they would lose was the sense of power over the cream of India’s cricketing talent, the overseas trips to watch the Indian team and the ‘TA’ and ‘DA’ for attending the meetings or watching the matches. There was also the rush of the media trying to find out tit bits about the selection meetings and who was likely to be selected or dropped though of course it would be done on condition of anonymity so how that stroked the ego of the concerned selector is hard to understand. Now there is a greater danger of selectors wanting to be seen as doing the right thing by those who have the power to elect them next year so that they can get paid as well as have the earlier perks too.
Be that as it may the selection shows that there is going to be a greater commitment to fitness and no player will be allowed to pick and choose his matches. The proof of that will be seen in dealing with big name players and not the fringe players. Who is going to determine the fitness of the player is also not sure but it is a step that was badly overdue, and now that it is here let us hope the message gets through to the players. Now that the season has begun the best way to check a player’s fitness is to have him play in at least one domestic match which will give an idea about how ready he is to get back to International Cricket. No exceptions should be made so that India gets to play a team that is physically ready to take on the opposition.
We have seen recently how getting a certificate from the NCA has backfired in the case of Virender Sehwag. He is at the NCA for rehabilitation and is on record as saying that while batting is not a problem after the shoulder surgery, it’s the throwing that he is not so sure about. Now if this is the situation at the end of September how could he have been in the Indian team in early August? Who gave him the go ahead? If it is the doctor or physio at the NCA then he needs to be questioned as to why he did so. It was obvious to any lay person that Sehwag was far from fit for the two Tests that he played and despite the desperate position that the Indian team was in he simply shouldn’t have been sent to England. Yes if he had got hundreds in both the Tests then no questions would have been asked but that’s just it. He didn’t and that’s why the demand for answers. If a player is not fit then there are more chances that he will fail than when he is fit. Every individual has a threshold of pain and that can be a determining factor but at all times it is the team that should come first and not the individual when taking a call.
Harbhajan Singh’s omission for the first two ODI’s does not come as a total surprise. If he had stayed away from the Champions League then there would not have been the negativity that is associated with that decision. The reason why it is so is because after it was announced that he was unable to bowl and was returning home for an abdominal strain he batted with gay abandon swinging his bat and in doing so showed no pain about the strain. That was good enough for people to doubt if he really was injured or if he was leaving a tour where he was tired and was not sure if he would be able to get wickets on pitches that were clearly made for the England seam attack.
Unfortunately because of past experience there is scepticism about accepting a player's word about the extent of his injury and as I said earlier each individual can bear a certain amount of pain and still carry on. Look at Mahendra Singh Dhoni. He is a strong man who makes light of any strains that he has and even though he has battered fingers with his keeping he is still bearing the pain and carrying on. More crucially he is not letting his side down in doing so with his keeping or his batting.
Another reason for Harbhajan not to get much sympathy is because though the media loves him because of his feisty nature and the willingness to take on the opposition most still want the Indian cricketer to be a quiet, noncontroversial person who just plays cricket and goes home. Most of the batsmen fit the bill and so despite them not always getting centuries or sometimes even fifties in consecutive matches not a word is spoken about them while if Harbhajan goes three innings without taking five wickets there is lot of negative comment about his lack of sting, lack of spin and what not. Harbhajan does not get the recognition that his haul of wickets deserves because there are far too many who are looking to pull him down at the earliest opportunity.
Harbhajan should now let the ball do the talking and not respond to any provocation from the media for that will only weaken his case and give them more masala to spin their stories. He is too good a cricketer to be left out for long and is only 31 years old so he has plenty of bowling left in him.
It’s only the beginning of the season and it promises to be an interesting one indeed.