BCCI kicks transition can down the road 

In name of looking forward, senior batter Pujara dropped but other moves not keeping with skipper Sharma’s post final promise 
Image used for representational purpose only (File | PTI)
Image used for representational purpose only (File | PTI)

CHENNAI: The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has once again played it safe at the time of selecting a squad before a Test series. The two-match Test series against the West Indies, the beginning of the next two-year WTC cycle, offered the board a clean slate. Yet, they have spurned the opportunity.

Sure, people may point out the exclusion of Cheteshwar Pujara as the first sign of transition but it’s not the first time that he has been dropped. Ajinkya Rahane, who was below Pujara in the scheme of things (Rahane is without a central contract while Pujara has one), not only figures in the squad but has been named vice-captain for the trip.

You can’t be serious about transition if you plan to appoint a 35-year-old as the vice-captain, a posting normally reserved for a future leader. But then, this is just what the BCCI are prone to do. In December, they had elevated Pujara to the role of vice-captain for the away series against Bangladesh after Sharma had to return home following an injury. Rahane was below even Suryakumar Yadav in the pecking order in the longest format as late as three months ago but now, Yadav is not even part of the Test squad.

In other words, they have resorted to playing their favourite game: musical chairs with Pujara and Rahane while keeping everyone else onside. In most sports, teams decide to pick a team for the next cycle, especially after a seeming era-ending loss. Curiously enough, the BCCI has picked a team just keeping in mind the two-match series against West Indies. With India’s next Tests scheduled to be in South Africa and at home to England, the smart thing would have been to utilise the softer landing of the Caribbean to blood a few players.

After promising to bring in fresh faces, it’s likely that four of the top five that started the WTC final will feature in both Tests against West Indies. While Yashasvi Jaiswal is in line to make his debut, Ruturaj Gaikwad will likely warm the bench, at least in the short turn. In short, when India lines up for the national anthem at Dominica on July 12, at least six of the first XI will be 34 or over. In short, they have decided to once again kick the full transition process down the road.

This isn’t what Sharma had said when he was speaking to the media in one of the indoor cricketing facilities after the loss against Australia.  “Any tournament you play, you start looking at what possibly you can do moving ahead,” he had said less than two weeks ago.

“Obviously, there will be some talks around it and we will see whatever is required and whatever is best, whatever the brand of cricket we want to play in the next two years. Who are the guys who can do that role for us? That is the question that we need to find answers to. There are a lot of guys, there are a lot of players who are doing really well in our domestic cricket as well. It’s just about finding them and giving them that space, enough time to go forward and do the job for us. It’s all about that. The focus will be on that.”

After saying a lot of guys ‘are doing really well in domestic cricket as well’, the selectors, headed by interim chair SS Das, have for reasons best known to themselves, ignored most of them (there will be no answers forthcoming because there will not be a single press conference). Take the case of Sarfaraz Khan, who has amassed 1538 runs in 12 matches across the last two Ranji Trophies. The Mumbai batter leads a list of batters who have been ignored despite excelling in domestic cricket.

They have also adopted a similar approach when it comes to captaincy. Sharma will be 38 at the time of the WTC final in 2025. Officially, he’s India’s all-format captain. Will he last till then?   In terms of bowling, Umesh Yadav has been dropped while Navdeep Saini has earned a recall. Mohammed Siraj will lead the pace attack as Mohammed Shami has been rested. Bengal pacer Mukesh Kumar is also in the squad but expect all three frontline spinners — the two Ravis, Jadeja and Ashwin, and Axar Patel — to play.

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