Ordinarily, choosing the team for the One Day International (ODI) tour against the West Indies should have been a cinch. After all, there can’t be too much change needed in a squad which won the World Cup just last month. But Krishnamachari Srikkanth and the other selectors have a fairly daunting task when they meet on Friday for this purpose.
Dashing opener Virender Sehwag has already pulled out of the tour to get his shoulder operated. In fact, he will miss the latter half of the Indian Premier League (IPL) too, the owners of Delhi Daredevils having kindly allowed him leave of absence. But this in turn has raised another, larger question about whether Sehwag should have played the IPL at all knowing full well that the West Indies tour lay ahead.
Besides Sehwag, there are a few others who have reported niggles, strains and general weariness. For instance, Ashish Nehra, who missed the World Cup final, didn’t play the IPL at all, not having recovered in time for the tournament. Whether he is fit to be considered for the West Indies tour is a moot question.
Indeed, fatigue has been a recurring theme this past season, especially among the senior players. Before the IPL began, captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had raised the red flag. “We are tired,” he said, or words to that effect. It was more whine than dissent, but something the selectors must take cognizance of considering that this is a packed year for Indian cricket.
Form factor: Pune Warriors bowler Rahul Sharma. AP
There are three aspects to the task before the selectors: Should some senior players be allowed to skip the West Indies tour so that they can recoup and recover? How much weightage should be given to performances in the IPL? Finally, what steps should be taken to ensure that players don’t prefer to play only the IPL and skip the regular series?
On the first, I believe that some senior players such as Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan deserve a break. India will play a Test series against England immediately after the West Indies tour, and there is a tour of Australia later this year—both more serious challenges than playing the West Indies in a One Day series.
True, as World Cup champions, India should not approach any assignment poorly prepared or with the best players unavailable. But the increasing workload will necessitate a wider pool of players to pick from, with the selectors and captain having to juggle the assignments for optimum results. This problem is not peculiarly India’s; England have already chosen three captains for the three formats, and doubtless the players for each format will also differ.
How significant performances in the IPL are is a question that has cropped up every now and then over the past few weeks. Players such as Paul Valthaty, Manoj Tiwary, Rahul Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Parthiv Patel, Amit Mishra and Ishant Sharma have been impressive and consistent, and brought themselves on the radar of the selectors.
But while this is a healthy development, the selectors will have to protect themselves from being overzealous. Form in T20 can be misleading. Success in this format is not strongly indicative of excellence or expertise in the other formats. One has only to look at how few from the 2007 T20 World Championships went on to retain their places in other formats subsequently to understand how different the rigour is for 50-50 and, especially, Test cricket.
I would suggest that players who have a stronger, and longer, grounding in other formats and have also done well in T20/IPL—such as Rayudu, Tiwary, Patel—should find more favour than instant successes. That said, a youngster such as Pune Warriors’ tall leg-spinner Rahul Sharma is worth a punt.
The truly vexing issue, however, is of ensuring that players don’t bypass bilateral tours and other engagements citing injury or fatigue, but play the lucrative IPL. In Sehwag’s case, his injury was known even before the World Cup—as was the fatigue of senior players. Yet no Indian World Cup player (other than Nehra) missed the IPL.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the selectors have to send out a strong message that this cannot be a ruse to miss out on tours. In the Indian context, the problem is more complex than just a “club versus country” debate, as has been propounded in the case of West Indies’ Chris Gayle and Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga, because the IPL is also a BCCI property, so loyalty to the board is not the issue.
A clear window for the IPL in the international calendar would help players and the respective boards work out assignments and workload better. But since that is unlikely to happen in the immediate future, the selectors will have to deal with such situations on a case-by-case basis.
A no-compromise approach which conforms to the essential policy of the IPL—that national duty comes first—is best.
Ayaz Memon is a senior journalist who writes on sports and other issues.
Write to Ayaz at firstname.lastname@example.org