Calcutta: The national selectors (a) allowed “sentiment” to take centre stage while discussing V.V.S. Laxman’s future and (b) took a “calculated risk” in picking Yuvraj Singh for the two T20 Internationals against New Zealand and the World T20.
Where international selections go, Friday saw the Krishnamachari Srikkanth-headed committee complete its work, in Mumbai. The Laxman and Yuvraj decisions stood out, as also the botch-up over the India vice-captaincy for the September 18-October 7 tournament in Sri Lanka.
“Sentiment, more than anything else, led to Laxman being retained for the (two-Test) series against New Zealand... He’s served Indian cricket immensely and the selectors didn’t want to end their innings by giving him the boot,” a well-placed source told The Telegraph.
According to another source, captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher were both “rather non-committal” on the Laxman issue. Both were on a conference call during the extended meeting at the Cricket Centre.
Obviously, the captain and coach wanted the Wise Men alone to decide, not wanting to soil their hands, so to say.
Laxman, who is three months away from completing 16 years as an India cricketer, had a poor tour of Australia, averaging less than 20 in the four Tests. He didn’t make a mark in England either, last summer, and his failures only made it worse for India.
Both well-placed sources confirmed that Srikkanth and his colleagues (Mohinder Amarnath, Narendra Hirwani, Surendra Bhave, Raja Venkat) took a “calculated risk” by including Yuvraj in the 14-member squad for the World T20.
“It’s a fact that Yuvraj hasn’t played top-grade cricket since last November, but he’s one of the few match-winners we have... With the NCA declaring him fit, the selectors didn’t have to think for long... He’s worth taking a calculated risk,” one of the sources said.
Yuvraj, who has fought against a rare form of cancer, is just weeks away from an incredible return to the big stage. Barring a hiccup, Vizag will see his comeback, on September 8.
There’s so much riding on Yuvraj. For Indian cricket, for those battling cancer...
Now, for the other significant decisions:
Return of Suresh Raina: Both Dhoni and Fletcher specifically asked for him, despite technical shortcomings. Manoj Tiwary lost out. Neither would have been talked about had Rohit Sharma not lost form.
Return of Piyush Chawla: Dhoni and Fletcher’s unhappiness with Rahul Sharma, who’d become the chosen leg-spinner for quite some time, paved the way for his return. His last Test was more than four years ago. Sharma will, instead, travel to New Zealand with India A.
Return of Cheteshwar Pujara: That he’d be back was first reported in these columns earlier this week. Expected to bat at No.3, the position held by Rahul Dravid for years and years.
STRANGE: That Ishant Sharma has been retained, despite not having played competitive cricket for months. He underwent surgery on his left ankle after the tour of Australia. Srikkanth, it seems, was particularly keen to have him in the 15. Ashok Dinda deprived.
Return of Harbhajan Singh: Amarnath, one learns, pressed for India’s most successful off-spinner. Hasn’t worn the India cap for a year now. Apparently, both Dhoni and Fletcher were pitching for Ravindra Jadeja. They couldn’t have their way.
Return of Lakshmipathy Balaji: Rewarded for an excellent IPL-V, where he stood out for the champions, the Kolkata Knight Riders. He hasn’t played for India in any format for three-and-a-half years, though.
Return of Piyush Chawla: Rahul Sharma’s fall from grace worked to his advantage here too. That he’s handy with the bat helped. Last appearance for India in any format was in the 2011 World Cup.
STRANGE: That Rohit Sharma has found a place. Ajinkya Rahane lost out.
THE UNFIT LIST
It’s not official, but the NCA, it seems, listed four players as unfit for selection — Amit Mishra, Sreesanth, Wriddhiman Saha and Varun Aaron.