Chance wasted to blood young talent

IT is incomprehensible why Kiran More and his team of selectors went into a play-safe mode while picking the team for the tour of Bangladesh.

IT is incomprehensible why Kiran More and his team of selectors went into a play-safe mode while picking the team for the tour of Bangladesh. Even assuming that this was effected to ensure that the host country's passionate aficionados get a glimpse of the superstars of Indian cricket and enrich the coffers of the BCB, the approach to composing the squad for the two Tests and the three one-day games is anything but pragmatic.

Since gaining Test status in 2000 as the tenth country, the record of Bangladesh is nothing to cheer about; of the 32 Tests played so far, there is not a single victory to show. But there are three drawn Tests in the logbook, two of them against another lowly-placed nation, Zimbabwe, and one against the West Indies at St. Lucia a few months ago.

There was a filament of scepticism whether granting Test status to Bangladesh was a hasty decision and compelled by the desire of the powers-that-be at that point to create a dependable Asian vote bank in the International Cricket Council. The fact that the quality of material available with Bangladesh was far below international standard stood out without a shade of doubt.

It must, however, be conceded that the domestic structure in Bangladesh is well supported by sponsors. The spectator response has always been tremendous. The presence of foreign players from India, Pakistan and West Indies added a touch of glamour to the Bangladesh domestic scene as did the service of foreign coaches for the national team ranging from Gordon Greenidge to Dav Whatmore.

Against this backdrop, the reluctance of the Indian selectors to experiment with several youngsters on the threshold is indeed surprising. The inclusion of the 23-year-old seamer Gagandeep Singh of Punjab has come about mainly because of the injury to Ashish Nehra. No two opinions exist over the fact that Gagandeep Singh, who has as many as 154 wickets in 32 matches in the home season since debut in 1999, deserves a break into the higher league. But the question is whether he will be able to play in any of the two Tests in preference to the established bowlers Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan. So are the chances for Bengal's Shib Shankar Paul, who was among the reserves for the Mumbai Test against Australia and sidelined for the series against South Africa.

There was speculation about India fielding a squad with a handful of youngsters. Instead of relying on the old guard, the selectors could well have utilised the tour to test the youth content, and given time off to the seniors and injured players till they take on the Pakistanis in the strenuous home series in February-March.

It is on record that seasoned stars like Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan have skipped matches citing injuries. Ganguly missed two Tests against the Aussies at Nagpur and Mumbai. Tendulkar had a long lay off due to a painful tennis elbow. Zaheer Khan repeatedly rendered himself hors de combat while Irfan Pathan had to stay out for two Tests against Australia.

It is debatable whether the country has had such a wealth of talent at any point of time as now. This is the right moment to nurse it with care and concern, instead of leaving the youngsters frustrated. If the performances recorded in the domestic season are not recognised then the competitions and those who figure in them become irrelevant, whatever be the pious pronouncements of the Board officials and selectors on the importance of strengthening the base of first-class cricket.

Not long ago the name of Ambati Rayudu was on the lips of everyone; some even hailed him as a Sachin in the making. But this Hyderabadi has not been allowed to blossom at all. Another youngster making waves is Venugopala Rao who is also not really getting noticed by the selectors. There is also a case for the in-form S. Sharath of Tamil Nadu based on his showing in the Ranji Trophy this season.

It is nobody's case that every youngster seen to be among runs and wickets in domestic cricket should automatically be elevated to the national squad. But the selection committee could have plumbed for a few new faces against an opposition acknowledged as weak and of no match to the full-fledged national team. A little display of vision and concern for the future would certainly have enhanced the profile of the selection committee. Timing is important in blooding youngsters. If Vijay Manjrekar, Nawab of Pataudi (Jr) and Sachin Tendulkar, to name a few, were not pushed into the Test arena at a very young age, the world would not have heard of them.

An opportunity to script a new page for Indian cricket has been frittered away by the selection committee.