The national selectors on Monday reposed their faith in Ajinkya Rahane and Chesteshwar Pujara, two batsmen who were seen warming the benches during the Bangladesh tour. While Rahane was dropped from the final two ODIs, Pujara — India Test No.3 for a while now — made way for Rohit Sharma in the one-off Test.
With Rahane named captain of a second-string Indian team for the Zimbabwe tour and Pujara put in the charge for the squad that will take on Australia A at home, the difference of opinion between the selectors and the team management came to the fore. According to the system followed in Indian cricket, while the national selectors pick the squad, it is the captain and coach who take the final call on the playing XI.
Selectors do travel with the team but they aren’t part of the pre-match huddle. The missing name of all-rounder and MS Dhoni-favourite Ravindra Jadeja in the two teams announced on Monday added to the intrigue and gave credence to the speculations about the two key decision-making bodies of Indian cricket — the national selectors and the team management — not being on the same page.
Chief selector Sandeep Patil was categorical that while Jadeja was dropped, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli, among seven other seniors, were rested for the three ODIs and two T20s against Zimbabwe in Harare.
Patil, though, didn’t feel that he was part of a divided house.
“We (selectors) only select the best combination and it is up to the team management to decide (the playing XI),” Patil said. As a supplementary question Patil was also asked if the selectors on tour could influence the playing XI decision. The former Test player kept mum and pointed to the secretary Thakur who sat next to him. Thakur would read the rule book and underline the authority of captain and coach while on tour.
Despite Dhoni’s reasoning of dropping Rahane (he can’t rotate strike on slow tracks, the captain had said in Bangladesh) Patil expressed no such reservation about India’s most consistent and assuring batsman across formats. Patil said he was keen to see how Rahane handled the responsibility of leading the team.
“We are very happy with the way his career is shaping up. He is one of the most consistent players and we also wanted to look at the other angle of him (captaincy). We have given him this opportunity and we will definitely back him,” the head selector said.
When asked earlier during the media interaction if Rahane being named skipper for the Zimbabwe tour was ‘the way forward’ and the ‘sign of things to come’, Patil categorically indicated that the batsman had the selection committee’s backing. “Five of us have decided to give Rahane responsibility and we are confident about his ability and we want him to do well. At the same time we want to judge him,” Patil said.
Monday’s developments would have come as a shot of confidence for Rahane, who less than a fortnight ago was benched after ODI skipper Dhoni promoted himself to No.4, a slot Rahane had settled down into this year. Justifying the exclusion of Rahane from the ODI side, Dhoni had said: “He needs pace. We have seen that he plays a lot better when there is pace on a wicket. Whenever he has played at No. 4 or No. 5, if the wicket is slow, then he struggles to rotate the strike freely. Especially when he is just starting his innings, he has a bit of trouble. It is not easy.”
However, while Dhoni may have his cricketing logic, the exclusion of Rahane raised eyebrows as much as Pujara’s did a week before that. Pujara, India’s specialist No.3, had been dropped for the final Test at Sydney. But he had played for Yorkshire and was coming off a unbeaten 133 against Hampshire and was expected to be included in the squad for the Fatullah Test.
“Pujara has been leading India A for the past three years,” Patil said in an endorsement of the batsman’s ability.
Patil also sought to play down the perceived confusion arising out of the captaincy style of Test skipper Kohli and ODI skipper Dhoni. “There is no confusion, seriously. We have not heard of anything either from the team management or from (Vikram) Rathore and (Roger) Binny, the selectors on tour. We are constantly in touch with the team management but we have not heard of anything.”
The Squad: Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Murali Vijay, Manoj Tiwary, Ambati Rayudu, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Harbhajan Singh, Axar Patel, Karn Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Sandeep Sharma, Stuart Binny, Dhawal Kulkarni.
IN: Manoj Tiwary, Kedar Jadhav, Murali Vijay, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Harbhajan Singh, Karn Sharma, Sandeep Sharma.