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Preparing for Mission Impossible
by Partab Ramchand
Nov 30, 2006
When youth fails, fall back on experience. That’s the maxim the selectors have followed in picking the Indian team for the three Test series in South Africa.

An ideal team is one that is a blend of youth and experience. But in adverse and alien conditions experience should get the nod over youth.And besides the pacy and bouncy pitches in the veldt the current situation in South Africa demands that experience must be given proper representation. With India heading for a rout in the one day series,with youth coming a cropper and with the team obviously lacking direction and looking like lost lambs in the great African jungle the selectors have obviously reckoned that the presence of a few seasoned pros could provide the stability as well as the spark of inspiration that the beleaguered touring side is desperately in need of.

The flip side of falling back on experience is that the policy is likely to be a hasty patch up job, a rather uncomfortable short-term measure. The more vociferous of the critics will call this a retrograde step. But the fact remains that there are not many young players who could be adequate replacements as the rare admission by the chairman of the selection committee Dilip Vengsarkar revealed. Sending inexperienced players at this stage would have been a policy fraught with danger and uncertainty. As Vengsarkar himself has put it succinctly while announcing the squad ``Our emphasis was on experience and we didn’t want to experiment with the untested.’’ Under the circumstances few would counter with this kind of a policy statement.

This way at least the selectors have ensured that they have picked players with previous experience of South African conditions or at least those with international exposure. The selection of Wasim Jaffer and Gautam Gambhir as contenders for the opening batting slot to partner Virender Sehwag was always on the cards while the presence of VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly in the middle order means that there is both solidity and elegance. It really is going to seem like old times with the two along with Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar representing a formidable batting line up – at least on paper. Also the elevation of Laxman to the vice captaincy has sent out an unambiguous message to Sehwag – a message that the chairman himself has underlined. ``He needs to perform and cannot take his place for granted,’’ said Vengsarkar. A timely warning that the swashbuckling batsman would take care to heed and indeed this warning could just be what he needs to return to his piratical deeds.

It just remains to be seen how Ganguly fits into the present scheme of things given the unpleasantness of the public spat between him and Greg Chappell. Vengsarkar’s quote however asserting that both Dravid and Chappell were extremely happy at Ganguly’s return should provide some comfort though the cynics will take this with the proverbial pinch of salt.

The selection of five seam bowlers and two spinners indicates that the playing eleven is going to consist of three of the former and one of the latter. Indian pace bowlers have fared rather well in the helpful conditions in South Africa symbolized primarily by the deeds of Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad. With the wickets being responsive to bounce Anil Kumble has not done too badly over three tours. The present seam attack however cannot be compared to Srinath and Prasad who performed heroically in tandem in 1996-97 while Srinath on his own has had three successful tours. So the lone spinner, be it Kumble or Harbhajan, might have an important role to play. In any case four bowlers should suffice for the return of Ganguly and the presence of Tendulkar and Sehwag gives Dravid quite a few options when it comes to rotating his bowlers.

All things considered it is perhaps the best team that the selectors could have picked. Ganguly’s self-belief has stood him in good stead.As he said in a recent interview he never contemplated retirement during his period in the wilderness confident that he would be back.That self-belief is something that he would do well in passing on to his teammates. They certainly would need this paramount quality for not only is present form against them they also have an unenviable past record to contend with. South Africa is the only country in which India has not had a Test victory so far. They have lost four and drawn five Tests over three tours, not counting the Centurion `Test’ they lost the last time out that was rendered unofficial following the Mike Denness affair. The Indians certainly have the odds stacked against them as they prepare for Mission Impossible.

(Article: Copyright © 2006 CricketArchive)
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