BCCI selection folly

For the past one and half years or so the Sharad Pawar regime has been performing a notch above their predecessors. Even when part of the country and fans were crying ‘foul’ against Greg Chappell’s experiments and exclusion of Saurav Ganguly from the squad, I thought BCCI stood tall and did a professional job. Most of the governance aspects as well as future planning made sense – so did their good acts towards suffering sports bodies and retired sportsmen.

Though experiments were part of the long term plans – even beyond World Cup 2007 – the selection process and the selectors seems to have come under the media/fans pressure yet again. The sending back act of Irfan Pathan (Sehwag somehow missed the flight that day!) during the SA tour made sense – so did their bold decisions to exclude Mohammed Kaif and Suresh Raina from the scheme of things for the WC. What is not convincing though is the final team selection for the World Cup 2007. Since other major cricketing nations have more injury worries, India had their best chances to pick a championship winning team, instead the selectors opted to make couple of unconvincing decisions.

Irfan Pathan and Virender Sehwag were once dropped on the basis of their pathetic form and recent performances. From the domestic performances since then, I have not seen anything so great about the duo that they need to be picked for this World cup. It is true that an allrounder brings a lot of balance to any one-day side but that is when he’s in form and exudes confidence. I personally feel that Pathan should not have figured in the WC squad this year – for the sake of his own career as well as for the present and future of Indian cricket. The last test match that we lost in South Africa earlier this year has to be attributed to the team management decision to make Sehwag open the second innings! We had just discovered an in form and confident stand-in opening batsman in Dinesh Karthick and that advantage was goofed by Sehwag’s inclusion as the opener. India spoilt the chances of winning their first ever test series victory in South Africa with that foolish act. It seemed that Rahul Dravid was behind that decision. According to what our chairman of selectors have just spilled out, the captain is again behind the selection of Virender Sehwag as a dashing opener. This sends wrong signals to the set and condident youngsters like Robin Uthappa.

I thought this is the first time that India is sending 5 specialist seam bowlers to the World Cup. This is again a very stupid decision. One should remember that the current Indian squad has got only two specialist spinners and they are not touring South Africa or Australia but West Indies. The West Indian pitches right now are pancake-flat and cannot do any good to the pacemen. I would have expected Ramesh Powar included in this squad instead of Irfan Pathan. He’s a good offspinner as well as a confident lower order batsman. The argument could be that Sehwag or Yuvaraj may be able to bowl five or six overs along with Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar to complete the fifth bowlers role. But in the flat pitches in West Indies, I am sure that they will be hammered all around the park.

Since we have already picked Robin Uthappa, Sourav Ganguly and possibly Sachin Tendulkar as openers, I would have expected the selectors to pick another strong middle order batsman than Sehwag. I still wonder why VVS Laxman cannot figure in this World Cup squad. The only argument against Laxman is his poor ground Fielding but anyhow the current squad is not a great fielding side. It is a shame for India that players like VVS Laxman will never get a chance to play a World Cup match unless some of our batsmen gets injured as the event progresses. If Laxman is not the right choice, I would still rate somebody like Dinesh Mongia higher than Sehwag in his current form. Mongia had an excellent 2006 season during his county stint and I thought he has been treated quite unfairly – not forgetting the fact that he got undeserved berth in the last World Cup.

A lot of people these days talk about Sachin Tendulkar’s assignment as the Vice Captain of the team – that he is being humiliated by this second role etc. I don’t read too much into it. In fact, it is a strong statement from the management that only those who perform and sure to be in the final eleven gets this post. That way Sehwag cannot be the vice captain so cannot be injury prone Yuvaraj Singh. It also emphasizes the fact that Sachin has more of a senior mentor’s role to play in his final World cup appearance. I think this is a very good move.

Lastly, the comments made by our chairman of selectors during his chat with the press was quite bad-timed. It was really stupid of a gentleman like him to talk about internal selection matters in the press – that too when team India was just about to start their World Cup campaign. Probably he was a bit too frustrated with the regional politics or was it an outburst because of his own lads (Powar and Jaffer) not finding a place there?

Colourless Cricket Worldcup in the offing…

Several sub-standard teams, too many injured players, underprepared stadia and pitches, lengthy schedule – Almost every aspect of the game seem to be taking the reputation away from the forthcoming ICC Cricket Worldcup 2007.

The problem started couple of years back when ICC declared that World cup 2007 will have participation from 16 cricket playing countries. Their argument is that unless they do so, the game will not grow. Well, I doubt if that helps the seven or 8 minnows, anyhow. Ideally they should have followed the Soccer World Cup kind of a setup whereby the qualification rounds pick up the best world-cup-west-indies-logo performers from each continent. This means that the top eight test playing nations plus a maximum of two countries should have been given a chance. Instead of proliferating the game the right way, they are reverting to moneymaking and marketing resorts – Well, they wouldn’t mind if the so called prestigious event runs into two months, do they? They need money!!!

The combined problems of injury worries, dope and match-fixing scandals seem to be on their way to diminish the image of the high profile event this time. Almost every good team has couple of their match-winners sitting out. If it is Brett Lee and Andrew Symonds – along with couple of other uncertainties – for Australia, it is Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammed Asif and Abdul Razzaq for Pakistan – I discount Afridi, well he has been a hype anyhow. New Zealand might miss their inform all rounder Jacob Oram where as England is trying to figure out who will be their captain for the Worldcup after a half-fit Kevin Pieterson somehow figured in the scheme of things. Sri Lanka has got their share of problems with their old warhorses. Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Attapatu are not in their best physical fitness, nor are they getting any younger. West Indies has got a different issue altogether as their star allrounder Marlon Samuels is under ICC scrutiny on match-fixing allegations. Among the front-line teams India seems to have the least of injury problems but their natural strength – of being the best batting line-up in the world today on paper and books – is marred on ground fielding. We have one of the most immobile fielding side of all times for this Worldcup. It is unfortunate that Mohammed Kaif and Suresh Raina did not live up to expectations after playing a good number of matches for India in the past.

When countries like West Indies host the mega event, there are a few issues that comes along with it. The infrastructure to accommodate and transport the players and officials of ’16 countries’ and their crazy fans will be a bit of a problem for them. Even the capacity of stadia are not along the expectations of typical cricket crazy nations. That is the advantage that the sub-continent nations have. We at least have big stadiums and a good rail network here. The accommodation availabilities as well as air schedules are the other set of problems in the Caribbeans. The Worldcup officials in WI are working really hard but there is every chance that things may not be fully in their control.

The long schedule of the event is mainly contributing to the number of teams appearing. Hope ICC will learn from their mistake and try to organize qualification rounds in the future before electing 10 teams or so for the final event. This would make things shorter, sweeter and more exciting. They indeed need to learn a lesson or two from professional sports bodies like FIFA.

Michael Bevan – The best one-day batsman ever?

Michael Gwyl Bevan, the best middle-order – or any position for that matter – batter ever in the history of the shorter version of the game, michael-bevan has announced his retirement from international cricket. While McGraths and Warnes hung up their boots in style in bigger arenas and packed press conferences that attracted international attention, the cricket lovers seems to have forgotten their one-day hero. Probably fans have double standards against specialists – they expect every single cricketer to be a master of test as well as one-day games!

In a 10 year one-day career that spanned from 1994 to 2004, Bevan had many more match winning knocks and great finishes than his contemporaries and today’s Australian heroes like Mike Hussey. Close to 7000 runs in just 232 matches at an average of 53.58 and career strike rate of 75% speak it all. What it doesn’t tell us is how many times – match after match – did he drove Australia safely home in close run chases. But 67 notouts out off 232 explains it.

Bevan was a great run-chaser. He knew when to accelerate, while running hard for singles and twos through out his stay at the crease and most importantly knew how to bat with the tail. Those who remember the 2003 World Cup match against England will endorse this sensible batting approach from Bevan – While chasing 205, from 138/8 he steered Australia to 208/8 while batting alongside Andy Bichel (MoM for his magnificent 7/20 in 10 overs). And this wasn’t a one off show! Cricket lovers got to see many such last over finishes from Bevan along his career.

Regardless of his only hitch – inability to play short deliveries – he has managed to showcase sensible, result oriented one day cricket. Kudos to Bevan! You will be remembered as an all-time one-day great!!