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The merry-go-round again

THE Indian selectors have once again taken a decision that will come back to haunt them. Mohammed Azharuddin has been thrown out unceremoniously and they have brought back the man whom everybody apparently wants -- Sachin Tendulkar. But does he really want to be skipper right now?

Wasn't the same man skipper of the country not so long ago? Why was he forced to step down? If there is so much captaincy material in him (obviously there must be else the Indian selectors in their collective wisdom would not have re-appointed him) why was he asked to step down in the first place?

It is a case of assuming that if a man is good for one thing, then he has to be good at another. Sachin is no mean performer with the bat so it is assumed that he is a good leader. The basics are forgotten -- a good follower need not necessarily be a good leader. And a poor scorer may well turn out to have more captaincy skills than a batting star. Mike Brearley and Gary Sobers come to mind immediately.

What happens to Azharuddin now? Does he continue in the team as a player or is this the signal that his career is at an end and he should call it quits before he is dropped? The man has to prove he is fit before August 6 (the anniversary of the day on which the world saw the first use of atomic power) and it is quite likely that he may announce his retirement before that.

There has been all the usual talk that the decision to appoint Tendulkar this time was unanimous but then this is always the tune which the selectors play. In India, consensus has great value. Everything must be seen to be harmonious even if it is not. It is difficult to think of many people who would be deceived by this show of unanimity but then the selectors probably cannot give up their little charades.

The lack of any long-term thinking is clear. Many people tend to blame the West Indies selectors for short-sighted selection policies but they were one of the few boards I can recall which deliberately appointed a short-term captain before handing the captaincy to Clive Lloyd. Rohan Kanhai was perfectly suited to take over and fill the gap when Sobers retired and no-one was more deserving of the honour. Kanhai pulled the team together a bit and then Lloyd was given the reins with results that are too well known to bear repeating.

What would have happened to Indian cricket if Sanjay Manjrekar had been given the reins in August 1996 when Tendulkar was appointed for his first stint as skipper? I think it would have been an eminently sensible decision and would have given Tendulkar a chance to mature and see the wise head of Manjrekar at work. (Manjrekar, who is obviously paying for the sins of his father, retired after waiting, Godot-like, for a recall to the Test team).

Given the fact that Tendulkar was reluctant to accept even the vice-captaincy for the World Cup, it is obvious that pressure must have been brought to bear on him to accept the captaincy this time. I don't blame him if he was reluctant. That first stint would have disillusioned him no end; India won three Tests, lost four and drew 10. They won 17 one-dayers and lost 31. And Tendulkar's form went down the drain as well.

But even now, the job has been handed over to Tendulkar for just two months. He will lead the side in two limited-overs tournaments in Sri Lanka and Singapore in August and September. A captain for the rest of the season, which includes home series against New Zealand and South Africa and a tour of Australia, will be named in September.

Does that mean Tendulkar is still on trial -- the way Brian Lara was after the South African disaster? Or does it mean that Tendulkar wants a couple of tournaments before he commits fully to the job? It is a bit puzzling to be sure. But then Indian cricket has always been a difficult bowl of jelly to swallow. To describe it as wheels within wheels would be an understatement.

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