Predictable, by & large

SANJAY RAJAN

Dinesh Mongia has left V.V.S. Laxman behind with regard to selection to the World Cup team.-V.V. KRISHNAN

SO the BCCI finally announced its 15 for the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. And the general feeling is that the selection was more or less on predictable lines, but for the non-inclusion of V. V. S. Laxman and the selection of Dinesh Mongia.

In most international teams, 12 or 13 of a 15-man squad pick themselves. India is no different on that count. All the noise is made about the fringe players, the 14th & 15th man so to say, who, in an event of this magnitude, generally never get a chance to wage battle.

With Rahul Dravid most certain to keep wickets, the young, talented Parthiv Patel is being taken along for the experience that he'd gain in what is the beginning of a hopefully long and illustrious career.

For the new millennium's first World Cup, the Indian squad comprises seven batsmen, four speedsters, two spinners, one all-rounder and a specialist 'keeper.

But it is the axing of Laxman that has mixed response; for one thing no one is clear as to why the Hyderabadi stylist has been dropped.

Is it owing to his failures so far in New Zealand? Or is Dinesh Mongia preferred as he is a better fielder and runner between wickets, apart from the fact that he gives the captain more options in the bowling department with his left-arm spin?

The Board's policy decision to keep mum with regard to explaining the selection committee's reasoning only confuses matters further.

For, if Laxman has been axed based on his failures in New Zealand, then the selectors have most certainly overlooked a few things.

Laxman's ability as a batsman cannot be doubted, though the stylist failed to adapt to the conditions in New Zealand, which again could be because he doesn't use his front foot convincingly. For that matter, not many of the other specialist batsmen managed it either. To adapt to different conditions asks for a variable technique, which as we slowly and sadly are still learning that not many in the Indian side possess.

But on the bouncy wickets of South Africa, he would have been the better option owing to his far superior back-foot play. He was amongst runs (47, 99, 66, 71) in the seven-match overs-limit home series against the West Indies, which had a fairly good pace attack.

Clairvoyance is the key to the mounting of a successful challenge. The Boards of Sri Lanka and Pakistan seem to have got that right, fixing their sides on tours of Australia and South Africa respectively as a run-up to the World Cup.

Sourav Ganguly's boys, performing badly and under tremendous pressure in New Zealand, are not left with much time between the end of this tour and the beginning of the World Cup to unlearn what they have tried to learn in New Zealand and prepare mentally and technically for South Africa.

Then there is the aspect of team morale. This, however, will depend on how the side finishes the ongoing seven-match limited overs series.

The team: Sourav Ganguly (captain), Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Md. Kaif, Harbhajan Singh, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble, Parthiv Patel (wk), Dinesh Mongia, Sanjay Bangar, Ashish Nehra & Ajit Agarkar.