For the chairman of selectors, Sandeep Patil, this must have been among the more peaceful post-team-announcement press conferences he had. For most past of the media interaction, it was BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur, sitting next to him, who was getting grilled. Finally, after Thakur had answered a series of Lodha report queries, Patil got a chance to justify his selection. He would start with a smile on his face.
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“Fortunately, no eyebrows were raised,” he said. It was true, when Thakur had announced the squad for the Asia Cup and World T20 there was no gasps in the room, nor did the reporter run out of the room to transmit a news break.
As it happen with winning teams, Patil and his colleagues didn’t tamper much with the squad that had blanked Australia Down Under. Apart from the addition of left-arm spinner Pawan Negi, who was also included in the three T20I series against Sri Lanka as well, there wasn’t any decision that merited deliberation. Among those that toured Australia, the names of Rishi Dhawan, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were duly struck out, harrowing as their experiences had been in Australia.
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However, Negi’s inclusion was slightly surprising, but not entirely shocking. Surprising because he is pure green in the international circuit. Not shocking because he has been fairly consistent in the domestic T20 circuit, useful enough with the bat and ball to pip Axar Patel, whose stock has considerably plummeted in last six months.
Negi’s returns in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy were not what you call mind-bending — 173 runs and six wickets in nine matches. But he scored those runs at a strike rate of 173 – including a 23-ball 41 not out against eventual champions Uttar Pradesh for a losing cause – though his economy rate (8.71) and average (33.66) would rather concede the impression that he is a batting all-rounder. Similar were his numbers in the last IPL, for Chennai Super Kings, in which he averaged 14.50 with the bat and 42 with the ball. However, he whittled out those runs at a strike rate of 158.90, exhibiting his big-hitting prowess with a 25-ball 36 against Mumbai Indians, the very match Hardik Pandya clobbered him for 25 runs in the penultimate over.
So the selectors, as well as the skipper, know what to expect of him – a few lusty blows down the order and frugal overs in the middle, as and when he gets a game.
“When selectors pick a team, we always give importance to domestic performance. It is not that we are only looking at seniors, we have looked at the performance, fitness and record of the domestic players as well. We have taken into account all the performances of not just 15-16 guys but all the domestic players and then picked these 15,” Patil explained.
He also repeatedly stressed the by-now catch-phrase of selectors – horses for courses – reason that perhaps sealed Negi’s spot at the expense of Manish Pandey, who is part of the Sri Lanka series. It made sound logic as well, for an extra batsman would have been redundant, as even Ajinkya Rahane would likely find it difficult to squeeze into the playing eleven.
“We’ve been going with a horses-for-courses policy which is serving us well. Pandey did very well in Australia and is a future prospect but we’ve picked players according to our needs. We’ve tried to look at those who can get us those quick 10-12 runs late in the innings,” he said. It could have been the criteria for overlooking leg-spinner Amit Mishra, a T20 giant, though not the agilest of fielders, quickest of runners and the biggest of strikers around.
Though fraught with risk, the selectors picked injured pacer Mohammed Shami, who hasn’t played international cricket since last (ODI) World Cup and has featured in only four domestic matches in this span. But the selectors believe a fit Shami could value-add to the side. “There are still 30 days to go for the World T20. Shami has been India’s best bowler in the recent past, and there is time to take a final call. What we know is that he has recovered and started bowling,” said Patil.
Overall, as again with a winning side, the squad looks balanced with most bases covered. And much to Patil’s relief, there were fewer eyebrow-raising questions, as compared to the darts thrown at Thakur. For him, the routine press conference remained just that. A routine.