Some glaring omissions

BY K. SRIKKANTH

THE selection of the Indian Test squad to Australia does not satisfy me at all. I am sure there would be a lot of others who would be feeling the same way.

The fact that the selectors took over two hours to agree on the final 16 from the 20 probables they had shortlisted suggests there had been plenty of disagreement during the meeting.

In the first place, it was wrong that they waited to watch performances in an ODI to select a Test squad.

While I concede that it is difficult to pick an Indian side that would satisfy everybody, it has to be pointed out that there are some glaring omissions.

First we will have to look at the composition of the side. There are two specialist openers in Sadagopan Ramesh and Akash Chopra.

The side also has other options. Virender Sehwag has had his moments in Test cricket at the top of the order, while Deep Dasgupta has opened with some success for India; I will come to Dasgupta's selection later. Ramesh's return is welcome though.

Murali Kartik, the left-arm spinner, performed really well int he recent TVS tri-series adn so it is strange that he is not in the squad to tour Australia. - Pic. AP.-

In the middle order, we have Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V. V. S. Laxman and Sourav Ganguly. There is absolutely no cover for these batsmen here.

The side is definitely short of a middle-order batsman and I believe one of the two — Hemang Badani or Yuvraj Singh — should have been selected.

Yuvraj Singh is an attacking batsman who can cut and pull well, and despite the lack of form in the ODIs, he could have been considered. Hemang Badani, another left-hander, has been among the runs this season, and his selection would have been a safer option. The team has only seven specialist batsmen on a tour of Australia, where the side is going to be up against some quality fast bowling on bouncy pitches.

The selectors have chosen seven bowlers — five pacemen and two spinners — and ideally it should have been another specialist batsman instead of one of the bowlers.

I am quite shocked that left-arm spinner Murali Kartik does not find a place in the team. Having a bowler of this breed has immense value to the team, and Kartik could have been invaluable to the Indians down under.

Among the spinners on view in the TVS tri-nation series, Kartik was the most impressive of the lot, flighting the ball, and getting it to turn and bounce.

Looking back at the Bangalore ODI against the Australians, the left-armer did trouble the visitors in his first spell, getting the ball to drift into the right-hander and bringing about subtle changes of length and speed.

Anil Kumble, who has been struggling in Test cricket, is lucky to find a place, when it appears that his best days are behind him. In my squad, Kartik would have come in for Kumble.

The omission of young paceman L. Balaji was puzzling in the first place. But justice has been done in that he has been brought back into the side. Avishkar Salvi, initially named in the squad, is now out, owing to a shoulder injury.

Balaji has been the most consistent of all our pacemen in domestic cricket and has done well on the `A' tours as well. The selectors did pick Balaji in the XI for the two home Tests against the Kiwis and the youngster bowled well, given that he had to operate on placid tracks. Since his stock delivery is the one that comes into the right-hander, he has a better chance of doing well against the southpaws and the Aussies have plenty of left-handers in their line-up.

Four pacemen would have been enough, and Irfan Pathan's place should have gone to a middle-order batsman; Pathan is a promising under-19 paceman with some splendid performances to boot, but it is far too early to pick him for as important a tour as Australia.

Sadagopan Ramesh, a specialist opener, makes a welcome return to the team. -- Pic. VIVEK BENDRE.-

Now we come to the wicket-keepers. While it is heartening to note that the selectors have finally chosen two specialist men, I have my reservations about the return of Deep Dasgupta.

His `keeping was not up to the mark in his earlier stint with the Indian team, and after that he has not done enough to earn a comeback. Here, I feel Ajay Ratra, who has a Test hundred against his name in the West Indies, has been given a raw deal.

Ratra was coming on well in the Indian team, until he lost his place in the side during the tour of England last year. There is no denying the talent in Parthiv Patel, but Ratra should have been persisted with, at least in the squad.

Having a strong reserve wicket-keeper in the team will also prevent the No. 1 man from becoming complacent. Ratra should have been on the tour of Australia.

Obviously, the lack of a genuine all-rounder has made things harder for the Indians. I mean Ajit Agarkar has to be more consistent and do more with the bat to earn the right of being called an all-rounder.

Like in the case of Parthiv, who is being groomed by the selectors, it is time we pick a couple of cricketers who possess the right attributes for an all-rounder and encourage them. Otherwise, there is bound to be a big hole in the Indian side.

Without an all-rounder, the balance of the side gets affected. This is the reason why some compromises are made when it comes to team selection.

Finally, I would like to wish all the cricketers the very best of luck during the Test campaign in Australia. Even those on whose selection I have been critical, I would only be happy if they do well enough to prove me wrong.