This selection committee, headed by the ebullient and garrulous K Srikkanth took over at a time when Indian cricket was in a state of flux it had not found itself in for over a decade. The seniors were reaching their use-by date, young whippersnappers were snapping at their heels with performances in domestic and A-team cricket.
Fortunately for the new committee (Yashpal Sharma being the only old hand, having served as selector before), their task was made that much easier by two unexpected events. Even as he was batting at something approaching his best, Sourav Ganguly scotched rumours of a VRS plan from the BCCI by calling time on his career. Anil Kumble, suffering from an ever-lengthening form dip, declared halfway through a Test that he was history.
Suddenly, two places opened up in an Indian Test team that was once so packed that certain members of the squad knew they would be called upon to do little more than ferry drinks.
That said, the selection committee’s real test came when they had to find a middle-order batting replacement for Ganguly. At the first instance, they sidestepped the tough question, leaving it instead to Mahendra Singh Dhoni to take this long-term call.
With Ganguly in the team for the away series against Sri Lanka and the home Tests against Australia, S Badrinath was the reserve batsman of choice. Yuvraj Singh could not find a place in either squad. This would have meant that Ganguly’s exit would have paved the way for Badri’s debut. But these are not normal times and even in the best of times Indian cricket does not aspire to conform to logic. After all, if that was the case, Badrinath, who played a part in the ODIs in Sri Lanka, where India finally blunted Ajantha Mendis, would not have been dropped for the England ODIs, with M Vijay (the one-Test replacement for the banned Gautam Gambhir) taking his place.
Yuvraj’s ability as a striker of the ball and his talent is beyond doubt, and has been for some time now. Yet, these ODI gains have seldom translated into long-form achievement, although to be fair, Yuvraj has been in and out of the Test side.
Badrinath’s pedigree as a long-form batsman, similarly, is beyond doubt, although at the domestic level. It is no fault of his that Badrinath has not got a chance to express himself at the highest level, for his first-class record is impeccable. Of all active cricketers, his first-class average is third, behind only Ponting and Tendulkar.
The choice before the selectors was a qualitative one. Do they go the traditional route, picking a man who has spent years honing his skills just to fulfil this role, or do they punt with raw talent, despite past failures? They’ve gingerly stepped aside, handing both options to Dhoni. The ball, and with it Badri’s career, is now in Dhoni’s court.