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All eyes on Bhajji, Yuvi

Even if Harbhajan’s fitness is proved, he cannot take his selection for the S Africa Test squad for granted, reports A Vasu.

cricket Updated: Mar 17, 2008 02:37 IST
Anand Vasu

After heady success in Australia and the massive pay-outs of the Indian Premier League auction it is a return back to earth for India’s cricketers, who have to mentally prepare themselves for a near one-month grind of Test cricket against South Africa in the heat of a home summer.

There will be no coloured clothes or dancing girls, no felicitations or cheques handed out for a while. But just who are the men who will be charged with carrying out this task? All things being equal, picking the squad would not be a tough ask.

But all things are not equal at the moment. On Saturday, at the behest of Dilip Vengsarkar, chairman of the selection committee, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma were asked to report at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore on Sunday, to undergo a fitness test on Monday morning, ahead of the selection meeting. But on Sunday only Ishant turned up in Bangalore and spent 30 minutes indoors. A report on his fitness will be delivered to the BCCI. The Punjab duo had informed the team management and the board secretary on Saturday that they were fully fit, and were not to go to Bangalore for the fitness test. However, late on Sunday evening, the BCCI convinced the two to report to Bangalore, and they were scheduled to reach Bangalore early on Monday to prove their fitness.

The late decision to go to Bangalore and prove fitness rather than simply give an assurance to the board verbally could be a prudent move by Yuvraj and Harbhajan. Only recently the Board of Control for Cricket in India set a precedent as far as recording fitness levels in the NCA are concerned.

The BCCI made Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman travel to the NCA to record their fitness levels with Paul Chapman and Paul Close, and they did so without protest. Although these four did not figure in the CB Series, they were not left out for fitness reasons, all enjoyed success in the Test series that preceded the one-dayers.

But even if fitness is proved, Harbhajan’s selection may not be something he can take for granted.

At least two selectors were not particularly enamoured with his efforts in Test cricket in recent times. “You go and check his record and then call me” one selector shot back, when asked if Harbhajan was a certainty, if he was fit.

The numbers are embarrassing. In 2006 he picked 19 wickets from 7 Tests at 52.78; in 2007 he had 13 wickets from 4 Tests at 46.38; this year two Tests have yielded 5 wickets at 65.60. He might well be doing a good job tying one end down, but the selector asked, “What about the job he is picked for? That is taking wickets.” That Harbhajan was tying down one end and allowing the bowler at the other end to pick wickets did not cut ice with the selector.

The irony is that the actual selection of the team should not be such a difficult task, with the batting being pretty set and bowlers around the country doing well. The only thing that needs to be cleared is fitness, and this looks all set to happen on Monday morning. Then the selectors will need only a few minutes when they sit down in Bangalore at 3pm on Monday to pick the squad.

A quiet concern may be raised over the form of Wasim Jaffer, but he has been done enough and more over the last year to be given a longer rope. Virender Sehwag would be his partner, and then the four big names follow — Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly. Mahendra Singh Dhoni snatches the big gloves and four bowlers – the proportion of spinners and fast bowlers would depend on the conditions, and in any case three quick men and three spinners, including skipper Anil Kumble would be in the squad.

Add a reserve batsman, and you’d probably first go to Yuvraj, and a squad of 14 is complete. If you really wanted more cover then Dinesh Karthik could get a look in, in an expanded squad.