Yet another campaign...

INDIA will begin yet another campaign outside the sub-continent with renewed hopes. However, in the last 16 years, these hopes have only been dashed, with our cricketers often flattering to deceive.

Will it be a different story in England this time? It could well be, provided the players put their mind over matter.

To start with, the Indian ODI and Test squads for the England tour leave me disappointed. Too many batsmen and a lack of depth in bowling, especially in the spin department.

There is no left-arm spinner in the Test squad, which is baffling. A left-armer can be of immense value to the side, and do not forget, the Test series will start in the second half of the English summer, when there will be a fair degree of assistance to the spinners.

It is clearly time to groom a left-arm spinner, and the England tour, with so many first class games, would have provided an ideal opportunity for a young bowler of this ilk to gain in confidence.

On the contrary, the selectors appear bent on destroying Murali Kartik's confidence. Here is a spinner who has turned in sterling displays match after match in the domestic circuit and for India 'A'. And in the few and far between opportunities that have come his way in international cricket, he has done enough to suggest he has a future in big time cricket.

The lad has what it takes to be a competent spinner at the highest level, can bat usefully down the order, and is a handy fielder. Most importantly, he appears to have considerable faith in his ability.

I remember when India toured England in '86 - we beat England 2-0 and that remains our last Test series win outside the sub-continent - Maninder Singh, with his left-arm spin, supported the pacemen well, picking up valuable wickets.

I would have also picked a young opener on this tour. As things stand, Shiv Sundar Das is struggling to retain his place, and Wasim Jaffer is still relatively new to international cricket.

Under the circumstances, it would not have been a bad idea to develop a youngster on the campaign, preferably a cricketer from the 'A' team. The openers do have a crucial role to play in England, with the ball swinging and seaming.

It is not a bad idea at all to opt for an in-form opener, who could act as a cover for the top two. Gautam Gambhir and Akash Chopra have done well for India 'A' on the tour of Sri Lanka and one of them could have received the nod.

Spare a thought for Sanjay Bangar. He has been tossed around so much in the Indian Test side that he himself must be confused about his role. Is he there as an all-rounder, a middle-order batsman or an opener? At the international level, I feel he is more of a middle-order batsman who can also bowl.

While I have nothing against a young wicket-keeper like Parthiv Patel being encouraged, I have to add that the second 'keeper's slot on this tour could have well gone to a bowler with the ability to chip in with the bat.

The Indian team-management has already indicated that it prefers Rahul Dravid keeping wickets, for that provides the side with more depth. I am personally against this idea, for a specialist alone can do justice to a specialised job.

Yet, let's keep that aside for the moment and go along with the team-management's line of thinking. If Dravid is indeed the batsman wicket-keeper for the World Cup, then should he not keep in some of the first class matches as well?

Doing the job in one-dayers alone is not going to help Dravid sharpen his keeping skills. If a cricketer is to perform a key role in a competition as significant as the World Cup, then he must be adequately prepared.

In this scenario, the side could well have had Ajay Ratra as the No 1. 'keeper for the Test series, with Dravid taking on some of the load in the tour games.

Or let them dump the very idea of Dravid keeping in the ODIs - he is worth a place for his batting ability alone. At the moment there appears to be little clarity in thinking.

The side is bound to miss Javagal Srinath, in both forms of the game. The Karnataka bowler has bid adieu to Test cricket, but he surely has more to offer to India, and once he had revealed his intentions to continue playing limited overs cricket, he should have walked in.

Instead, the selectors have chosen to ignore this fine paceman. We do find ourselves in a strange situation where skipper Sourav Ganguly sings Srinath's praises, yet the senior bowler does not find a place.

According to Ganguly, Srinath is still India's best paceman. If he is still the pick in Tests, then it certainly is not beyond him to send down 10 probing overs in the abbreviated form of the game. Or are the selectors not listening to the captain? There appears to be something missing somewhere.

One only hopes the Indian pace attack is able to deliver even without the towering presence of Srinath. This will be a make-or-break tour for Ajit Agarkar. He has the ability, and can be incisive on his day. However, a lack of consistency has played havoc with his career.

He will have to contribute with the bat too, and, having seen him play some useful innings for India 'A' during my time as the coach, I know he has the potential. He is a clean striker of the ball, however, a lack of self-belief with the willow appears to have come in his way.

India desperately seeks a bowling all-rounder. Without an all-rounder, the element of balance is missing from the side, and the team often runs out of options. Sanjay Bangar is a hard-working cricketer, yet is not quite the answer for batting is his stronger flank.

The selectors should start a process by which a couple of all-rounders from either the 'A' or the under-19 teams are shortlisted and then groomed in a judicious manner. Along the way, they will have to take a chance with a couple of budding all-rounders.

As for the England tour, I hope Agarkar finally does justice to his batting ability. It is vital that he adds sting to the lower order. The presence of Murali Kartik, who bats within his limitations, would have been welcome too.

Finally, a word about Anil Kumble. While it cannot be denied that he has been a whole-hearted performer for India in the past, it is about time that he came up with some special performances to keep the young contenders at bay. Otherwise, some questions are bound to be asked. The ball is in Kumble's court.