If you are close to the big boss, your performance will always be under the microscope. In Indian cricket, RP Singh and MS Dhoni seem to be in the same situation. Their close friendship is well-known, they have signed up with the same agent and are known to endorse a product together.
When it comes to RP's selection, insinuations of skipper Dhoni's hand are spoken of in hushed tones. It's the case in this series following the UP seamer's surprise selection as a replacement for Zaheer Khan.
RP turned up in poor shape for the tour and did nothing to silence such talk after the team management decided to include him in the playing XI for the fourth Test.Experts felt Munaf Patel was in a better shape to play as he has been with the team from the start and played Test cricket in the Caribbean. If RP's name in the playing XI came as a surprise, there was more in store when he was given the new ball ahead of Ishant Sharma and S Sreesanth. Ishant & Sreesanth have got pace and wicket-taking potential. Though a bit wayward, they bowl at a lively pace.
In what will rank among the poorest first overs in Test cricket, RP started with five deliveries down the leg side, and was pedestrian, clocking just around 125 kph.
RP's selection for the tour may go down as one of the most embarrassing chapters in Indian cricket. From his appearance, it was clear he did not expect the call-up. From the way he bowled at the nets in the couple of sessions he attended, even an untrained eye would have reservations giving him a game. Since he had not played competitive cricket since the IPL in May his match fitness was expected to be poor. What has been shocking is that his fitness has been way below normal for a professional player.
Clearly, it looks like a desperate act by the selectors. He played his last first-class game in January, his last Test in 2008, and last ODI in 2009. He didn't take a wicket in his last 4 Test innings; in between he had not done anything remarkable in domestic cricket. In the last Ranji season, he took 17 wickets in 5 games.
His selection appears to be based on his performance here in 2007 when he picked 12 wickets in three Tests. He was slimmer and sharp then, and his ability to swing the ball prodigiously made him dangerous in English conditions. But his form and fitness has sharply dipped since then. The selectors must have realised this fact in the 10 overs he bowled on Thursday morning. But it is too late, and it is RP's teammates who will pay the price in the next few days.
The post-mortem of the tour should certainly include a probe whether there is a conflict of interest in team selections.