India's selectors and their selective myopia

Is RP Singh really the future of Indian cricket?

A meeting of India’s national cricket selectors isn’t expected to be free from surprises and I’m not talking about pleasant ones.  Idiocy has been their forte for generations – with one of the current five having even branded a previous committee as a ‘bunch of jokers’.  His inclusion into the five-member panel unfortunately has neither brought about more astuteness or transparency.

Offender-in-chief Krishnamachari Srikkanth The last time an Indian side was picked for an international commitment – the Asia Cup – Chairman of selectors Krishnamachari Srikkanth ended up shouting at a reporter, asking him to shut up and furthered it with "You keep quiet. Aap aise googly bol-bol  ke baat karega toh mai bhi gussa ho jaega. Aap mere ko ungli daloge toh mere se kya expect karte ho." (If you bowl a googly then I will get angry.  If you provoke me, I will also give it back).

Aside from the fact that Srikkanth didn’t exactly distinguish himself, the real issue was what had prompted the outburst. The waiting media was questioning the reason behind ‘resting’ (because Srikkanth insisted about 576 times that no one had been ‘dropped’) Sehwag.

Now if you’re a cricket journalist in India, you should know that questioning anything is off limits – particularly if you were planning on posing a question to someone part of the establishment. In the given scenario, the Chairman of selectors was jubilant about Virat Kohli’s ton in the CB series and wished away all the woes of the eight consecutive away Test losses. It was blasphemy if any of the reporters present chose to do otherwise.

More recently, a lot was expected from the selection of the India ‘A’ squad to the Caribbean. The last year has been a nightmarish one for Indian cricket, with eight consecutive humiliating away Test drubbings, and this was the selectors’ opportunity to present their vision for the future. With the recent retirement of Rahul Dravid; and the fact that Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman are in the evening of their international careers, this was the chance to see which domestic batsmen have the heart and technique to succeed in alien conditions.  India’s lack of bowling options have also been bitterly exposed over the past year and a series of four-day games in the West Indies could have helped sort the wheat from the chaff for the immediate future.

Unfortunately, the side picked to travel to the Windies has more misses than hits. A quick glance at the RP Singh14-member squad and the first name that hits your eye is RP Singh. Yes, this is the same man who made his debut for India in 2005. That’s a whole seven years ago! In the interim he was given chances aplenty but was never able to cement his place in the national side for any of the three formats.

RP Singh’s most recent outing for the country was the disastrous tour to England last year, where he was one of the many replacements after Team India were witness to more injuries than your average hospital’s emergency room. His out-of-nowhere inclusion then (straight from a holiday in Florida mind you) left the country’s cricket lovers bewildered. He had neither performed on the domestic circuit nor played a Test for India since 2008. Skipper MS Dhoni’s good friend (no insinuations, just plain ol’ fact) RP was immediately inducted into the playing XI ahead of Munaf Patel (who was a member of the original touring party). He went wicketless in the Oval Test where he gave away 118 runs in his 34 overs. He also came across as unfit and out of sorts in the field.

He was once again let go of post the England tour and has done absolutely nothing of note in domestic championships since. Why then is he part of the India ‘A’ side? Is he the next best bet for India? My best guess is that perhaps it’s because Miami is pretty close to the West Indies. Jokes apart, every other explanation (not that the selectors are providing any) defies logic.

As Harsha Bhogle said via his Twitter account – “If i was RP singh, I would consider myself extremely lucky to be in either the MI side or the India 'A' side.”

Rajasthan who have won what is supposed to be considered the country’s premier domestic championship (the Ranji Trophy, not the IPL - in case you’ve developed doubts) for two consecutive years, have only one player in the side – middle-order batsman Robin Bist.  There is no Pankaj Singh (who has picked up close to a 100 wickets in two seasons), no Ashok Menaria and no Vineet Saxena. The last in that list made a double century in the Ranji Trophy final but has gained absolutely nothing from it. It was a dead, flat wicket you see. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Other domestic performers like Parwinder Awana and Ankit Bawne have also been ignored.  Instead the side has names like Jalaj Saxena and Shikhar Dhawan, who as my boss Prem Panicker points out, has played so many ‘A’ tours that he may soon announce his retirement from them.

What are the criteria required to be selected for an ‘A’ side? More importantly, what is expected out of a member of the side? Shouldn’t it comprise of those upcoming players who have displayed class and consistency on the domestic front and are looking for an opportunity to gain experience on foreign shores before they don the India cap?  That however isn’t the case this time, and yet again (to choose a cricket commentary cliché) an opportunity for India has gone abegging.

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