India and India A: List of Curious selections by Chetan Sharma-led committee in past 2 months
Not picking Hanuma Vihari initially for the A tour to South Africa and including him in this squad after omitting him from home tests against Kiwis is the latest of Indian selectors' curious calls.
NEW DELHI: The India captaincy, even if its for one game, couldn't have come at a better time for Ajinkya Rahane as the two Tests against New Zealand could well be his last chance at redemption before the big series in South Africa.
However, what has raised eyebrows is how Hanuma Vihari was demoted to India A after being mysteriously dropped for the home series against the Black Caps where he could have got a chance to rake up some good Test scores.
With regular captain Virat Kohli resting as a part of workload management programme and Rohit Sharma also needing a break after a long stay inside the bio-bubble, the national selection committee under Chetan Sharma had no option but to appoint regular vice-captain Rahane as the leader for one game.
This is despite the fact that Rahane, in 2021, appeared in all of India's 11 Test matches (2 in Australia, 4 in India and 5 in England including the WTC final vs New Zealand) scoring 372 runs at an average of 19.
His last innings of significance was 61 at Lord's in India's Test win.
But before and after that has been a saga of failures which has led to questions being asked how selectors came to a conclusion that Vihari, whose last effort for India was a match-saving 23 battling a torn hamstring in Sydney.
The choice of Jayant Yadav as backup off-spinner in the Test squad, or picking Baba Aparajith over the likes of Mandeep Singh and Sheldon Jackson in India A, could raise pertinent questions as to whether enough respect has been given by this committee when it comes to selecting performers in domestic cricket.
The PTI lists some of the curious calls made by the Chetan Sharma-led committee.
The other members of the panel are Debasish Mohanty, Harvinder Singh, Sunil Joshi and Abbey Kuruvilla.
1. Hardik Pandya back-injury issue
Chetan Sharma told the media that "Hardik Pandya will bowl full quota of overs" in the IPL leg in UAE.
In reality, Pandya didn't bowl a single over during the tournament and later Virat Kohli clarified that at some point they are looking at two overs per match during the World Cup.
It is now being learnt that Hardik played IPL with lower back injury (since his back operation in 2019) and wasn't fit to bowl.
Chetan and his committee decided to go by skipper Virat Kohli's demand of playing him as a specialist batter. The result was the lack of a sixth bowling option apart from the fact that Pandya has lost his power game against better bowling.
2. Selecting five spinners and then dropping one
The selectors decided to pick five specialist spinners based on the erstwhile T20 captain's demands and then when they realised that they have goofed up by believing Hardik's version of his fitness status, the next thing they did was to demote Axar Patel into the reserves and pick Shardul Thakur from reserves into the main squad to keep the balance.
Their timing was so "immaculate" that Axar looked dejected and out of sorts during the IPL play-offs.
3. Hanuma Vihari shunted to India A
There was every possibility that Hanuma Vihari wouldn't have played the second Test against New Zealand in Mumbai because regular skipper Virat Kohli would have made a comeback.
But out of his 12 Tests so far, Vihari has only played one in India and most of his games have been in Australia, West Indies and one in England, back in 2018.
The last Test for India was where he batted for three and half hours with a torn hamstring and saved the match with an unbeaten 23 off 161 balls.
If Rahane with an average of 19 across 11 Tests gets a go, why wasn't Vihari preferred over Shreyas Iyer, who hasn't played red-ball cricket of late? The second question is that if Vihari had to be selected for India A, why wasn't it done in first place on the day A squad was announced and Prithvi Shaw was selected in that list? Was it an after-thought since Shreyas was picked in Test team or was it pre-decided? Like BCCI's press releases that never give a proper picture, we won't know.
4. Jayant Yadav's back in mix, Gowtham in India A
Jayant Yadav is a steady off-spinner and capable middle-order batter without being exceptional.
He has played four Tests in late 2016 and early 2017 before being plagued by injuries.
But a closer look at his first-class record in the preceding years (before COVID-19) robbed one full domestic season, Jayant had played eight first-class games across the earlier two editions of Ranji Trophy.
He played 2 games in 2019-20 (last time Ranji Trophy was held) and got 9 wickets with a seven-wicket haul against Jammu and Kashmir. He scored 31 runs.
In the 2018-19 season, he had 147 runs and 10 wickets in six games with no five-wicket haul.
A season before that (2017-18) he didn't play Ranji Trophy due to injury.
So Ravichandran Ashwin's back-up is a man who has 19 wickets from 8 first-class games with just two wickets per game.
So is our off-spin cupboard bare? No, we have Krishnappa Gowtham, who recently played ODI in Sri Lanka.
He has 54 wickets across 11 games in the last two Ranji Trophy seasons (34 in 6 in 2019-20, 20 in 5 in 2018-19).
If anyone could explain how 19 wickets from 8 games is preferred plays for India and 54 wickets from 11 games is in India A set-up? No explanations.
5. Baba Aparajith pips Mandeep Singh, Sheldon Jackson
If Baba Aparajith keeps a hand on his heart and asks himself if he expected an India A call-up for three first-class (red-ball) games considering his record in Ranji Trophy over the past few seasons.
Aparajith, a sensation at U-19 India level, has been one of the dependable performers for Tamil Nadu but the right-hander would himself admit that he is supremely lucky that the likes of Mandeep Singh of Punjab or Sheldon Jackson of Saurashtra are overlooked by selectors year-after-year.
Sample this, Aparajith scored 292 runs in 8 games at an average of 29.20 while Mandeep has 696 runs in 8 games at an average of 69.60 in the 2019-20 season.
And Sheldon Jackson? Well, he had 809 runs in 10 games.
In the 2018-19 season, Sheldon Jackson had 854 runs in 11 games while Mandeep Singh had 602 runs. So how much Aparajith scored in that season? 379 runs in 8 games at less than 35 per match.
6. No second wicketkeeper for A tour
Indian A team will be leaving for South Africa next week as they play three four day 'Tests' (first-class games) against Proteas A team between November 23 to December 9.
However, for the 17-day trip, the selectors have announced only one wicketkeeper in Railways' Upendra Yadav, who has had couple of good seasons and boasts of a first-class batting average close to 50.
However what is baffling is that for a tour in another part of the world, there is no second wicketkeeper in the side.
India's No 1 wicketkeeper Rishabh pant will play T20Is and then take rest. Ishan Kishan will also play T20Is and hence can't be selected. Wriddhiman Saha and KS Bharath will be on Test duty.
Upendra, who is now No 5 in the pecking order, is going to South Africa but strangely there isn't a sixth choice for an A tour.