For a while, Jaydev Unadkat could not help thinking “what more do I have to do?”
When Unadkat, 20, was not picked for the India A squad for the tour of the West Indies in June despite having taken 26 wickets in seven first-class matches in 2011-12, he was in despair. “I thought: What is it that I am lacking?” he says. “Not getting selected for India A was so disappointing because for the last two years I have regularly played for the emerging team,” Unadkat says. In 2010, he had even made his Test debut, playing one match against South Africa, before fading away.
Unadkat is not alone. Jharkhand batsman Saurabh Tiwary, 22, has gone from national team player to being dropped from India A in one-and-a-half years. Karnataka pacer Abhimanyu Mithun, 22, has made that journey in less than six months. And two seasons after playing a once-in-a-lifetime innings against Mumbai in the 2010 Ranji Trophy Super League final, where he scored 144, Karnataka batsman Manish Pandey is no longer in the race for a spot in the national team.
Lost world: Saurabh Tiwary (in red) (By Anshuman Poyrekar/ Hindustan Times) and Jaydev Unadkat. (Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
The three players share one thing with Unadkat—they were all identified as special talents early and picked in the national team in different formats, or, as with Pandey, in the A team without having played a lot of first-class cricket. None of these players are in the Indian team which is currently playing a One Day International (ODI) series in Sri Lanka. So why are they no longer among the best 20-25 players in the country?
Some believe that after the initial break, the four were victims of inconsistent selection. Tiwary was dumped from the ODI team before the 2011 World Cup. “Saurabh helped India win in two of the three ODIs where he batted, against Australia (12 not out) and New Zealand (37 not out) in 2010. Those are the performances that should matter in team selection,” says former Jharkhand coach Subrata Das, who has seen Tiwary since his under-15 days. Yet, though India A played limited-over matches in the West Indies this year, he was not considered. In mid-January, Mithun was hoping to play his first Test in Australia, having gone there as a replacement for the injured Praveen Kumar. “In Perth, we were playing four pacers and I thought I’d get a chance,” he says. Instead, it was his friend and mentor R. Vinay Kumar who made his debut. Despite being picked for the national team, Mithun found himself kept out of India A’s tour of West Indies, which featured three four-day matches. Did a disappointing 2012 IPL season sway the selectors?
“The think tank has to be precise in designating roles to bowlers. Otherwise, the bowlers get confused,” says former Karnataka pacer Sanath Kumar, who was coach of the state team in 2009-10 when Mithun made his first-class debut. “Mithun has always bowled well in four-dayers, but is not yet ready for Twenty20s.”
Lack of support
Former India Test player Deep Dasgupta thinks the cricket fraternity as a whole has not paid enough attention to the demands, on and off the field, on modern cricketers. “One is injury management. Manish, for example, had a hernia operation and missed most of last season. Jaydev, too, has been injured (he had a minor groin surgery mid-season). The players need someone to guide them when they are missing cricket through injury,” Dasgupta says.
Dasgupta, who is the head of cricket operations at the IPL franchise Pune Warriors, does not think that the IPL has had a negative impact on youngsters. “A lot of them don’t have permanent jobs. They are out to make a living from cricket, so they are focused,” he says. That means being focused on the India cap too because the rules thus far foreclosed the possibility of earning big money in the IPL unless one played for the national team. Indian domestic players were not put on auction and could not be paid more than Rs 30 lakh per season.
The only way is up
“The good thing for all these cricketers is that age is on their side,” says former India opener W.V. Raman. As Bengal coach for the last two seasons, Raman has overseen batsman Manoj Tiwary and pacer Ashok Dinda’s return to the India team in limited-over formats. “The important thing (for the ones out of favour) is to sit down and decide what they need to change, be it some attitude tweaking or their technique,” says Raman.
Mithun is already working on his bowling action, and Unadkat recently went to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore and got himself a fitness schedule. “I have built a gym at home so that I can train twice a day without having to go anywhere,” he says. “Lots of cricketers just fade away after doing well in junior cricket,” Raman warns. If they remain fit and continue to perform, however, Unadkat, Mithun, Tiwary and Pandey can avoid that fate.
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