The Indian cricket team has been dethroned from their No.1 position in the ongoing Test series in England by the hosts, the body language and attitude of most of the players has come under intense scrutiny as have the decisions taken by the team think-tank and the role of the support staff. So it wasn’t much of a ‘surprise’ when the recalled from oblivion Rudra Pratap Singh was preferred ahead of Munaf Patel to replace the injured Praveen Kumar in the Indian XI for the ongoing Oval Test, which is his first at this level in three years.
While it many not have been a surprise keeping in theme with the nightmare series India are having, the decision certainly has raised plenty of questions and the as expected the below-par performance of RP Singh hasn’t helped his skipper MS Dhoni either nor has the left-arm bowler done himself any favours. England continued to dominate India and scored freely on the second day of the Oval Test as the hosts went into stumps at 457 for 3 in 123 overs; RP Singh’s figures so far read 30-7-96-0, and neither he nor S Sreesanth have supported the lanky Ishant Sharma, who has been the best Indian bowler in this match by a mile. How the Indians must be ruing the ankle injury that ruled the impressive Praveen out of the Oval Test!
RP Singh hasn’t looked threatening at all and most of his deliveries have hardly tested the English batsmen. He has hardly managed to swing the ball and hardly managed to beat the outside edge and was treated with scant disrespect by centurions Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen. RP Singh also hasn’t mixed up his deliveries and utilized the slow nature of The Oval pitch, and if the team think-tank didn’t want to play Munaf, they could have chosen Pragyan Ojha over RP Singh – then instead of having two and a half pacers and a spinner in the bowling attack, it would have been two pacers and spinners each. And, who knows Ojha could have been more effective than RP Singh; though Munaf must be wondering what he has done to deserve the cold shoulder in the Test series.
At the end of the rain-truncated first day’s play on his Test comeback RP Singh admitted after that he was nervous on his comeback to Test cricket, but added: “I played some matches in IPL (Indian Premier League) and a few club matches. Our domestic season lasts from September to March, so yes there weren't many four-day games but I am quite fit for the matches.” Nothing could be farther from the truth though! Not only does he look overweight but his fielding, which has never been a strength, has also proved he sorely lacks match fitness to play the longest version of the game. That isn’t much of a surprise considering his last first-class match was in January when he turned out for Central Zone against South Zone in the Duleep Trophy.
As for playing in the IPL, bowling four overs in a Twenty20 match is a whole altogether different cup of tea as compared to having to bowl around 20 overs in a day in Test cricket. For the record, RP Singh took 14 wickets in the 50 overs he bowled for Kochi Tuskers Kerala in IPL 2011; while Munaf took 22 wickets in the 54.2 overs he sent down for Mumbai Indians. And, that’s not the only statistic where Munaf trumps RP Singh. In the 2010-11 Ranji Trophy season, RP Singh took 17 wickets in five matches for Uttar Pradesh; while Munaf Patel took 20 wickets in four matches for Baroda with a much better average and strike rate as compared to the left-arm pacer – not really rocket science to work out who the better and more effective bowler is among the two across formats.
Munaf, who was an unsung hero of India’s 2011 World Cup winning team, has been a regular fixture in the shorter formats of the game in the national team; and while he has cut down on his pace, he has become a smart bowler who can swing the ball and make optimum use of the conditions on offer. And, though he played in only one of the three Tests in the Caribbean, Munaf has at least been in India’s plans for the five-day format and is certainly more match fit than RP Singh. He could also easily have been chosen ahead of the temperamental Sreesanth for either the second or third Test matches of the ongoing series in England.
It would be no surprise if Munaf is unsure of his place in the scheme of things as far as Test cricket is concerned when a bowler who hasn’t played at this level for three years leapfrogs him and finds a placed in the playing XI. He certainly deserved better and should have logically replaced Praveen as he has been in England from the start of the tour and is well-acclimatized with the conditions.
And, if it defied logic that RP Singh suddenly raced up the pecking order to be flown in as the injured Zaheer Khan’s replacement; the fact that he was preferred ahead of Munaf for the ongoing Oval Test lends credence to theories that Indian skipper MS Dhoni has a commercial interest in picking players backed by Rhiti Sports – something that my colleague AR Hemant has commented on in this well-written blog.
If that’s indeed the case, in a Test where India is playing for nothing but pride, the decision to play RP Singh has already backfired and the team’s fan base would deservedly feel short-changed. And, what message does this send out to the pacers who have been tried and tested in the past couple of years including the likes of Abhimanyu Mithun and Jaidev Unandkat (a baffling selection himself)? Not to forget the likes of Pankaj Singh, Ranadeb Bose, S Aravind, who have been consistent performers in domestic cricket as well as impressive youngsters like Deepak Chahar and Varun Aaron. The English media too was surprised by RP’s inclusion and in this provocative but hard-hitting column in The Independent, James Lawton questions the left-arm pacer’s spot in the Indian XI for the Oval Test.
RP Singh could yet justify his selection in England’s second innings at The Oval (should the hosts be required to bat again); but irrespective of whatever happens, the left-armer’s inclusion in the Indian playing XI has opened a Pandora’s Box and some uncomfortable questions need to be answered by all concerned.