Of-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin has "rightly” replaced an out-of-form Harbhajan Singh in the Indian Test team as the selectors must have made that decision looking into the future, says former India wicket-keeper Syed Kirmani.
The Bangalore-based Kirmani also feels it would be tough for the Punjab bowler to make a comeback into the Test squad, even though he has been picked for the upcoming two Twenty20 matches against New Zealand and the WorldT20 in Sri Lanka.
"Ashwin has very rightly taken Harbhajan’s place, and he has been performing with a great amount of consistency. And along with him the other spinners have also done a great job and we have a great batting lineup,” Kirmani, now director of the Karnataka State Cricket Association Academy, told Mail Today in an interview.
"But there cannot be a comparison between individuals; everybody has his own technique and style of approach, different attitudes and different applications. There have been a lot of bowling variations which both have been using. Ashwin has come a long way through hard work; not that Bhajji hasn’t worked hard,” he said.
Ashwin picked up 18 wickets in two Tests against New Zealand and won the Man-of-the-Series award on Monday as India won the series 2-0.
After Harbhajan lost his form and got injured last year and Ashwin, who made his ODI debut in June 2010, made his Test debut against the West Indies in Delhi.
Kirmani, 62, pointed out that Ashwin has performed well, bagging wickets consistently and even scoring a Test century.
"When there’s no consistency in a plan then the selection committee looks at a younger player who has the same kind of potential, who’s equally competent as the experienced players. So when Bhajji was going through a bad patch last year, obviously, you had to look into the future and look for a replacement,” he said.
"It’ll be tough for Harbhajan to stage a comeback at this stage — unless Ashwin goes through a very rough patch all of a sudden. Ashwin looks more compact and a steadier Test player.”
Asked who he would pick in the XI if both were in the squad, Kirmani said: "I’d pick both, if they are in form. In my time offspinners Erapalli Prasanna and S Venkatraghavan played in the XI. So there’s nothing wrong in that, if required. But it can only happen in the Indian sub-continent (on spin friendly pitches).”
On the transition phase in Indian batting, following the retirement of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, Kirmani said that people should not get disheartened as batsmen like Virat Kohli are performing well. He also said that too much should not be read into New Zealand taking 12-run lead here in the second Test, which India eventually won.
"There’s no room for disappointment for anybody because you cannot be in top form all the time; you cannot be hitting centuries in every innings. This is a very natural phenomenon. You cannot have everybody showing the kind of consistency which Kohli is showing. They’re exceptional players,” he said.
Kohli scored a century and a half-century in Bangalore to win the Man-of-the-Match award.
Kirmani said he’s the most exciting batting prospect at the moment.
"Yeah, for sure; there’s no two ways about it. The progress, the temperament, the adjustment and the attitude — in every aspect — he has shown in all forms of the game is huge,” he said.
"Right from the time he was in the India under-19 team his graph has been going upwards, climbing the ladders of success and popularity. And the key factor is consistency, which he has also shown. On that basis he’s the most exciting player at the moment.”
Kirmani felt that elevating Kohli to vice-captaincy was also appropriate, though he pointed out that the seniors in the team should always be respected.
"You’ve got to groom a player, that’s how you encourage a youngster. The vice-captaincy is fair enough and let him get groomed under the experience of Sehwag and Gambhir. At the same time, seniors like Sehwag and Gambhir, have to be respected,” he said.
"Dhoni is captain and you cannot touch him at the moment. If Sehwag and Gambhir don’t want to accept captaincy then you come to Kohli. But we don’t know the inside story.”
Gambhir has, however, again been appointed vice-captain for this month’s T20 World Cup, replacing Kohli. Adds it’ll be tough for Harbhajan to be back for Tests.