THE writing has been on the wall for some time but no-one appears to have noticed it. Maybe the glut of one-day cricket got in the way. Maybe it was in the wrong language. Whatever be the reason, the Indian selectors have woken up rather late to the fact that the team needs some drastic surgery. Some chopping and changing has been done for the one-day series which starts this month but this is a case of applying a poultice after a broken limb has been washed away.
The statistics should have told their own story. Figures don't lie and if a team plays 27 Tests at home in 10 years and wins 16 of them while losing only four, that team has got to be one helluva good outfit. The selectors may well have taken note of these stats. That may account for their complacency. The problem lies in the other side of the story -- in the last 10 years, India have played 33 Tests abroad, lost 13 and won just one.
In one way, this tour has been good for the team. No matter what happens in the third Test, India will leave South Africa a sadder and wiser unit. Four players will be sent home after the Test -- Venkatapathy Raju (why was he taken along in the first place if he wasn't going to play?), David Johnson, Woorkeri Raman, and Pankaj Dharmani. The four who will join the team for the triangular tournament will be Salil Ankola, Sunil Joshi, Ajay Jadeja and Robin Singh. Navjot Siddhu apparently has to stay out in the cold for some more time to atone for his leaving the team in England last year.
The board has also decided that a new squad will be picked for the tour of the West Indies. And this means that the junket to Bermuda, which could well be the most lucrative part of the itinerary for the board, will take place after the Caribbean tour. That the board has seen fit to agree to such a trip is a shame for the players will be dying for a rest by then. But then, cricket has never been the board's priority even though it calls itself the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
The emphasis on one-day cricket has been partly to blame for the current crisis within the Indian ranks. That springs mostly from the Indian board's questionable decisions to yield to the wishes of each and every promoter and send the team to any spot on the globe to play. The money that comes in is the only consideration. There aren't too many cricketers among these officials; a businessman like Jagmohan Dalmiya can only see the game in terms of dollars and cents and one cannot blame him for that.
Along with this, there have been numerous on- and off-field incidents which have not been dealt with properly. Vinod Kambli and Siddhu are two cases in point. They are both valuable players. Personal problems may exist but that is for the team management to sort out. Manoj Prabhakar announced that he was available for selection but little notice was taken. His earlier behaviour has, apparently, put paid to his chances of gaining a place in the team again. Basically, the problem is that he has no godfather to take up his case.
Now that some backtracking has begun, Sanjay Manjrekar may have some reason for hope. The West Indies tour includes five Tests and he is the sort of player the team needs. But it all depends on the captain for the grapevine has it that Tendulkar assured him that his place was secure for the South African trip but let him down when it came to picking the final squad. This kind of politicking has been the downfall of more than one team and it will be the nemesis of more than one in the future too.
All told, Indian cricket does not seem to be in too healthy a state as it heads for the millenium. The South African disaster would have served its purpose if some rethinking is done on every score. Team selection, pitch preparation, the overlooking of regional factors when it comes to picking a squad and giving a man a fair chance to redeem himself are some things which need to be looked at seriously. India has a number of good players in its ranks; they should not be sacrificed on the altar of expediency.