Points to ponder

The Indians will now realise what a huge impact Dravid makes when he is batting at number three.-G. P. SAMPATH KUMAR

The clock is ticking, and it is a case of Team India not being sure of who is likely to fit into the big void that will be created when the top three guns quit the scene.

The Test series between India and South Africa was expected to be exciting but after the reverse for India in Nagpur, the aftermath turned a trifle nasty what with the media going after the selectors like there was no tomorrow.

Krish Srikkanth, who relied on his instinct and reflexes to handle the quick bowlers during his playing days, must have wondered whether his reactions were sharp enough to cope with the barrage of criticism that was directed against him and his colleagues.

The South Africans made light of their work in Nagpur by winning with more than a day to spare and it has to be said that they played better than India and deserved to win the Test. But the media and the followers of Team India could not accept the reality and looked for avenues to vent their disappointment and zeroed in on the selection committee.

The selection committee apparently picked a squad based on the availability of players and the requirement of the team management. But the bizarre twist in the tale came when Rohit Sharma was injured minutes before the toss. He would have filled in for Laxman had he not sustained the injury. But once both Laxman and Sharma were out due to injury, the team management was left to decide on the best option possible moments before the toss.

At this juncture, the selection committee became irrelevant as at the international level neither the captain nor the coach would look for instructions from the selectors. The Indian team management went in for Saha, the wicketkeeper-batsman, but the move backfired badly as he found it difficult to blend in with the unfamiliar role of a batsman/fielder. He did not obviously look the part as a fielder but he did well to hang in for a while during the second innings in Nagpur.

Dhoni and Kirsten had the option of playing an additional bowler but they preferred to bolster the batting by including Saha. Now the question is why was the Indian team management reluctant to play an additional bowler given that Ishant and Harbhajan were not really performing at their optimum level in the recent past. I know that Team India won in the past when they stuck to a four-pronged attack but one must realise that the batting line-up then was rock solid (unlike in Nagpur) which enabled them to knock back the runs or concede a negligible lead if the opponents were to bat first and pile up a big score like South Africa did in Nagpur.

At Nagpur, the Indians were short in batting and it would have been worth considering an additional bowler instead of sticking with a debutant and that too in an unfamiliar role. An additional bowler might have come in handy when the South Africans were wriggling out of a tight spot after being two down for almost nothing.

Without wanting to be disrespectful to Saha, the inclusion of a fifth bowler might have served the team better as one cannot seriously think of Saha putting the South African attack to the sword. Besides, Saha is not accustomed to fielding like say a Dinesh Karthik and possibilities of Saha dropping a catch were higher. Though Saha did not floor any, he was conspicuously out of place without the wicketkeeping gloves. He cannot be blamed for not performing, as he is definitely not one who can come into the Indian side as a pure batsman.

He can bat a bit as he proved in the second innings but unfortunately, the general consensus was that Team India failed because of Saha’s failure in the first innings. To make matters worse, Saha was shown the gate, which again is as big a blunder as playing him as a batsman was.

The debacle has thrown up several interesting facts and it will be better for the people involved in decision making not to ignore them.

Firstly, the Indians will now realise what a huge impact Dravid makes when he is batting at number three and secondly, the youngsters need to be prepared better in order to handle the rigours of a Test match. Thirdly, the youngsters should alter their mindsets and look to work hard on their temperament, which is critical to batting for long periods in international cricket.

The clock is ticking, and it is a case of Team India not being sure of who is likely to fit into the big void that will be created when the top three guns quit the scene. Are we all going to wait and see what happens or are we going to have a succession plan and start executing it in the immediate future is something the team management and the selection committee need to address.

Otherwise, the same old routine of bitter criticism in the wake of a defeat and inordinate praise after a victory will continue until kingdom comes. It is rather uncanny that every coach and selection committee focuses a lot on World Cups but nothing much is done regarding the needs of Indian cricket with regard to Tests.