The selectors have done well

OPPORTUNITY often chooses different routes to arrive at people's doors. With the Indian team to Dhaka, opportunity comes riding on injury and now those picked must make the most of it.

BHOGLE

While Virendar Sehwag has to shoulder more responsibilities now since he is the vice-captain. Ajit Agarkar has to mould himself into a consistent No. 7 batsman.-Pic. N. SRIDHARAN

OPPORTUNITY often chooses different routes to arrive at people's doors. With the Indian team to Dhaka, opportunity comes riding on injury and now those picked must make the most of it. Anything after the World Cup ran the risk of being an anti-climax but the presence of spirited young performers will ensure against that. That is why, given their options, the selectors have done well again.

In spite of the presence of so many from the `A' team, the biggest opportunity will be for those who were on the fringe of activity at the World Cup; indeed for two or three of those who were in the thick of it as well. Ajit Agarkar and Sanjay Bangar must make a move forward and Bangar in particular must show he can play in the top six and give Ganguly five or six overs in every match. While he must go for the role of the batting all-rounder, a door as the bowling all-rounder has opened again for Agarkar. With Dravid out of the team and Parthiv Patel not yet ready to bat at number seven in limited overs cricket, Agarkar will have to provide the key to the balance of the team.

Where the wicketkeeper does not function as a batsman, and that species is numbered in international cricket, one of the bowlers capable of bowling 10 overs has to step up in the order. If Agarkar can bat consistently at number seven, it will allow India to bat Patel at number eight, even at number nine if Harbhajan moves up and currently that is right for him. Patel is a dogged, determined young man but his batting tools at this level aren't sharp enough yet. His performance will be watched very closely though for the Dravid experiment should have ended in the eyes of the selectors. It will be tempting to continue with it but it would be shortsighted as well. If he is smart, Agarkar will know that number seven is his lifeline in international cricket.

That means India will have to go back to the six-batsman format and that is why this is a big tour for three experienced young men. Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh had the huge influence of Dravid between them in the order. Now that is gone and one of these two must step up to play that role. In a team that is so short on years, they are among the more experienced players and must behave and play like willing seniors. From making little contributions around the big four of Tendulkar, Sehwag, Ganguly and Dravid, they must ask to be counted in the big four at Dhaka.

Sehwag is an interesting choice as vice-captain. He has the reputation of being a very gifted hitter, but no more, and now he must be Ganguly's sounding board. He has never had to shoulder the extra responsibility and like with Yuvraj and Kaif this will be a subtle test of future honours. In a sense it is scary that it comes so quickly for it is no more than two years since he really established himself. Harbhajan's hit and miss career only really firmed up in early 2001 and therefore the most experienced player after Ganguly is Agarkar. We churn fast these days.

That is why I think Ganguly would have loved to have V.V.S. Laxman in this side. He would have provided the experience at number three and would have made an ideal vice-captain. He is a very thoughtful young man, probably a bit confused with life at this stage, and it is a measure of how life treats you sometimes that he had to turn up injured. So too with Murali Kartik who should have walked into this side. The second spinners' position carries a greater opportunity with it. The great Anil Kumble is weighing his options in one-day cricket. He is a proud man with an enviable record and sitting on the bench will not appeal too much to him. Kartik would have been the right man. Having said that I cannot wait to see Amit Mishra bowl because he seems to have the habit of picking up wickets. An orthodox leg spinner is always welcome and having taken a bagful of wickets at `A' level he has shown he can play.

Abhijit Kale is probably lucky to make the grade ahead of the dashing 17 year old Ambatti Rayudu. Kale has toiled hard often with no reward in sight and there are many who might have given up by now. He will value this promotion like no one else because his time is limited. Rayudu's moment will come and by offering Kale an opportunity the selectors have been wise. It would have been very easy to make the more popular tilt towards a 17 year old.

I am secretly hoping I get to see a lot of Gambhir and Salvi. India have learnt the great benefit of having a high quality seamer bowling with the new ball and with Srinath contemplating his future in the game, a little window is opening up there. Anybody who can take wickets in the West Indies these days must be good and young Salvi will have a lot of very keen eyes following him as he marks his run. He must play at Dhaka.

Gambhir may find his opportunities a little more limited but he must be aware that Ganguly will be looking for a brave batsman at the top of the order in Australia. I will be surprised if he doesn't get a game, for the Indian captain has a fine eye for youth. As Sehwag and Yuvraj will tell him: impress the captain and he will back you.

They will have other words of advice for him as well. Fame comes quickly in Indian cricket but the pay cheque from the BCCI comes at snail's pace!