The national selection committee meeting on Monday gave a few interesting insights. First, the selectors and Virat Kohli are ready to give a longer rope to Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. Dropping the two players who didn’t play a Test in the West Indies indicates the faith the think tank has in the rest of the squad. So much so that the BCCI didn’t feel the need to announce a squad for the first two matches just as a precautionary step, a policy often adopted by home teams.
The thought behind the selection also shuts out hopes of many domestic cricketers who had hoped a good performance in Duleep Trophy could be a ticket to the senior team. It is not. Duleep Trophy, despite the hype created by the BCCI with the pink ball and the promise to have more top players turn out, ultimately proved to be a space-filling exercise for the broadcasters ahead of a long international home season.
In retaining 15 of the 17 players who toured West Indies, the India think tank also sent a strong message to New Zealand that they will not be given any breather in the three Tests. It’s in line with Virat Kohli’s intent to win every game that comes his way, a thrilling prospect when one comes to think that India have been equipped to field their best team on pitches curated to suit their needs. It’s an aggressive ploy waiting to be implemented by professional and experienced players. But was it a message sent too soon?
By sticking to known players, the India think tank has basically deprived itself of an opportunity to try out a greenhorn ahead of tougher rubbers against England and Australia. If the series against New Zealand is wrapped up within the first two Tests, it would make sense to hand a debut to a youngster than trying out yet another combination with the settled and experienced players. Why is it important to give youngsters their first big break at home? Because a debutant feels more at home on pitches he has seen since his junior days. More importantly, that is how India have got most of their best cricketers in the last decade.
Reared at home
In the last 10 years, 30 players have made their debut for India. Amit Mishra, Murali Vijay, Wriddhiman Saha, Cheteshwar Pujara, R Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma all made their debuts in India. That’s 12 out of the 15 picked for this series. Kohli, Ishant Sharma and KL Rahul are the other three who made their debuts overseas. But they are exceptions to the norm of watching players like Karn Sharma, Pankaj Singh, R Vinay Kumar, Abhinav Mukund, Praveen Kumar, Jaydev Unadkat, Suresh Raina, Abhimanyu Mithun, Romesh Powar and VRV Singh failing to make a lasting impression.
By not availing the chance to check out new players against New Zealand, India are not only going ‘all in’ this series, but are also refusing to prepare for worst-case scenarios. One or two exceptions could have made at the cost of players who would have anyway got game time in the Ranji Trophy. In the process however, India could have gained a one or two Test old youngster who would play against England with more confidence than a rank newcomer in case the team suffered an injury setback. That’s what keeps a good Test team going --- a solid core with some new players tested at home so that the think tank has a good idea of who to go ahead with when a tough tour arrives. For the time being though, India have chosen to focus on the immediate.