Anybody who has ever been a success at anything will tell you this: it helps to have a goal, and it helps to have a plan to reach that goal. In academics, business, sport, or any walk of life, setting goals is the first step towards success. But a shifting goalpost only produces scattershot results.
This is why the Australian teams over the years have been so tough to beat. They clearly identify what they want to win, they identify the players who will help them win, and they don’t stop. After 1999, they planned on winning the 2003 World Cup, and then again in 2007. Even with a depleted side in 2011, they made the quarterfinals. And now, even with the retirements of their great players, it’s still tough to beat them as West Indies found out over the course of five ODIs.
Despite the passage of generations — from Border to Taylor to Waugh and Ponting to Clarke — Australia’s cricketing ideology has been unwavering. In every era they have relentlessly pursued the same goal: of winning when it matters. And for this, they will be one of the best prepared teams when they host the 2015 World Cup.
In Indian cricket, such planning and strategising has been largely absent — a reason why they win a World Cup one moment and then get whitewashed the next. Their teams are being built on a series-by-series basis. Their superstars are handled with caution, and young players are being picked and dropped in a manner that often makes no sense.
Which brings us to the Test teams for the home Tests against England and Australia. It’s unclear if a long-term plan has been guiding the selectors’ hands while making their picks.
# Let’s start with the strange practice of punishment exclusions. Virender Sehwag returns to national duty after being dropped from the limited overs squad that played England recently. There’s this strange tendency in Indian cricket to pick and drop players for reasons other than performance. Sehwag was ostensibly dropped due to his wretched form. So naturally, his return to the team must be based on a redeeming performance. But that’s not the case. Sehwag hasn’t played a proper game in over a month. It’s unclear what prompted his return. Was it just the selectors’ way of telling him to behave?
# Meanwhile, Sehwag’s opening partner of nearly five years, Gautam Gambhir has got what was coming to him. He has been replaced by Shikhar Dhawan. Now, the trouble is that the Indian squad already had two openers in Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane. If you still had to bring in an extra opener, perhaps the in-form Wasim Jaffer with nearly a thousand runs in the season may have been a better choice. But what India need more is a good No. 6 batsman because they have left out Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina.
# So now we have a strange situation where an opening batsman (Rahane) is competing for the No. 6 spot with Ravindra Jadeja (neither a specialist batsman nor a specialist bowler). Apples for oranges? Meanwhile, Subramaniam Badrinath, who’d been named VVS Laxman’s replacement at No. 6, has been forgotten already. Where’s the continuity of thought?
# Let’s dwell on Jaffer now. He will be 35 this month. He has been among the top scorers in Indian domestic cricket season after season, and probably deserved a chance for the simple reason that India needed a break from the two walking wickets that have been Sehwag and Gambhir. If Jaffer’s age got in his way, how would the selectors justify holding on to the man who will be 40 next month and is far from his best form? Another case of inconsistency of thought? Also, will Sachin Tendulkar be around when India tour South Africa in December? Big question mark.
# Before you jump to say “past records”, let’s examine Harbhajan Singh’s case. His 90 wickets in 16 Tests against Australia are largely the result of his good work in 2001 and 2004. In the last three series against his favourite opponent (and over a large part of the last seven-odd years) Harbhajan has been a shadow of his former self. He was dropped and expected to regain his form in domestic cricket — something he still hasn’t done — and yet he has made two comebacks to the Test squad. There's no evidence that his famous turn and bounce are back. And by banking on his tattered reputation, India are asking for trouble in a key series.
# Then there’s the second line of Indian spinners. Amit Mishra made a brief appearance in the ODI squad in December, didn’t play and got dropped. Piyush Chawla played the Nagpur Test, took 4-69 and got dropped. And hey — remember Rahul Sharma, who our selectors said was the next best thing since Kumble?
# The point here is that players need to be picked because they’re the best in the country. Period. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case especially with a large number of India’s pacers. Praveen Kumar. Munaf Patel. Abhimanyu Mithun. RP Singh. Sudeep Tyagi. Remember Jaydev Unadkat? What about Parwinder Awana who was said to be the next big prospect and then dropped without getting a game? Let’s hope this isn’t the fate awaiting young Bhuvaneshwar Kumar.
# In their attempt to balance youth with experience, Sandeep Patil’s selection committee has left out Yuvraj, Raina and Gambhir. For a change, it will be nice to see these three work hard to return to the squad instead of being brought back based on past achievements.
# Parting shot — and this is for you, dear readers — man-for-man, is this Indian squad better than Australia’s? Could India have picked a better team? Fire away with the comments, don't hold them back.