Selection of the fittestWheels turn, time flies, runs flow, wickets fall. It hasn't happened in a long while, definitely not as frequently as it used to, but now Indian cricket finds itself in a spot of bother that wouldn't be so alien to it.
Scribes, especially those inclined to emotional descriptions of the previous day's play, will be calling for refills of hemlock. Obit composers will turn their attention to the sports pages for a change. The public will exchange glances of "told-you-so". Nothing like a mortifying loss to energise a mythic population of "knowledgeable cricket fans".
Irrespective of what happens at the Wankhede, most will classify the current series as a debacle. Like the all out attack philosophy of Steve Waugh has been swapped for a less in-your-face but a more smiling efficiency by the visitors, this series could finally spell doom for the home captain's long held doctrine of selection policy, viz. to retain players at all costs. I have always had my reservations against an obdurate philosophy of holding on to players in a team even if they were out of form. However, this is not to suggest that the principle has been a failure, only that it doesn't apply anymore as much as it used to.
Undoubtedly Ganguly's biggest rules has been to back people that he believes have talent. And back he did, to the hilt, often abrasively. The successes of Harbhajan Singh, Sehwag ,Yuvraj & Zaheer in the one-dayers at various times have inspired some of India's most famous wins, and can be rightly attributed to an attitude of confidence undoubtedly derived from the captain's beliefs.
An upward graph had meant that the idea was working, and Ganguly seems to have had what very few captains before him had been able to both demand and obtain: teams entirely of his own. But the principle came with its pitfalls. This seems to have worked best with youngsters of appreciable talent, but less and less with settled players. When a player has had a bright track record & reasonable experience, he is expected to shoulder the burdens that the fickle mistress of form provides. However, with this team, an inverse of the policy, i.e. dropping a player on poor form came to be equated with a vote of no-confidence against the player, instead of merely recognising the need for playing the best in-form players at the team's disposal. A case in the point was the overlooking of Kaif in the first Test at Bangalore inspite of clear indications in the previous months that he was probably the only player striking it in the middle. Repeatedly persisting with Zaheer Khan has meant being a bowler short for a while, though his return to what looks like some form is again a nod to Ganguly's ideas. Every critic atleast has to doff his hat to the strength of the man's faith.
Just how many out-of-form players can be accomodated in the team is a question to ponder. The hard decisions must be taken, for Test matches should not be fought simply on good HR policies. The failure to recognise the lack of winnability has hurt a team that has been lucky or has had the depth (whichever way you look at it) for a couple of individuals to discover an unlikely ejection seat to be rid of peril in the past.
The position that there were too many players out of touch is doubly weak: for not only do you concede that there were too many men in a squad who were unlikely to make a difference, you also reveal a lack of bench strength. Interestingly, India have not suffered this in the bowling department, a traditional Achilles heel. More by fortune than by design, injuries & lack of form has thrown up a regular pool of fairly competent pace bowlers. Kartik was able to fill in, but another spinner would have been tough to nab. The batting, with all its resplendence in the last few years, has in some ways been its worst enemy, for there has hardly been the need to blood newer players. Plus given the selection doctrine, out of form players were shielded until they got back to producing the sweet sound with the meat of the bat.
Indian selectorial politics were a little dormant, atleast in the public eye for some while. I'm afraid that the dice is now loaded back in favour of the wise men from Indian cricket's own cardinal points, and that Ganguly will find his authority, if not his captaincy, eroded considerably. A free-speaking, not to mention openly vituperative, Kirti Azad has fired his shots aimed ostensibly at the 'keeper (while at the same time being quite reluctant to answer questions on the early part of his terms). Thus revealing that hardly anything has changed when it comes to politics & cricket. It may be a little flippant to say that Ganguly has been "Pawared", but if the Maharashtra strongman has lost two political battles in quick succession, the Maharaja from Behala would do well to watch out.
A new coat of paint is usually preferred to hide cracks in structures, and that is likely to happen at Mumbai. But will the behemoth that is Indian cricket pull again in the same direction as it did for easily the most successful era in its history, or will we go around in circles, big or small, in a way reminiscent of what until the other day seemed the Dark Ages?