Calcutta: For the first time in years, the dramatis personae have all but gone silent (even off the record) on the eve of picking Team India for a major series — in the present context, the four Tests in Australia between December 4 and January 6.
The reason, perhaps, is understandable: There appears to be a question mark over the country’s most successful spinner, leggie Anil Kumble. While three slower bowlers have been named in the 20 — others being Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik — only two will take next Friday’s Chennai-Kuala Lumpur flight en route to Australia.
The 20 will be pruned to 16 on Saturday evening, in any case already labelled a big day for Indian cricket.
Of course, thanks to 358 wickets in 78 Tests, Kumble may still make it, but he is under ‘pressure’ from left-armer Kartik. In fact, late on Friday, a well-placed source of The Telegraph indicated even Harbhajan (despite a record 32 wickets in the last series versus Australia) isn’t guaranteed a place.
Clearly, it seems not just the selectors, but captain Sourav Ganguly and coach John Wright aren’t sure whether experience alone should get weightage or form be accorded its due. That Kartik keeps making the most of whatever opportunities come his way, is a distinct plus.
Indeed, the ‘semi-final’ in Hyderabad could earn or deny Kartik a seat on that flight from Chennai. Unless there’s a rethink, the left-armer and offie Harbhajan are the two spinners set to be fielded against New Zealand. As suggested, Harbhajan is also on ‘trial’, difficult though that is to digest.
Keeping fingers crossed, no doubt, is going to be Kumble. He did make the 1999-2000 tour of Australia, but was ignored on the 1991-92 visit.
Incidentally, the recent success of Zimbabwean Raymond Price — he picked up six wickets in the first innings at the SCG — and Ashley Giles’ six-wicket haul at the Gabba, last season, hasn’t gone unnoticed...
The other ‘troublesome’ spot, so to say, is in the batting department. The left-handed Sadagopan Ramesh is favoured to feature in the 16, but Yuvraj Singh (another left-hander) does have backers.
Assuming there’s no ‘manipulation’ of the extraordinary kind overnight, 13 are certain to make the squad: Sourav, vice-captain Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Akash Chopra, Sachin Tendulkar, V.V.S.Laxman, Parthiv Patel, Deep Dasgupta, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Ajit Agarkar, Avishkar Salvi and Lakshmipathy Balaji.
Almost there is Ramesh and the line-up will be completed by two spinners — in all probability, Harbhajan will be one of them. Out of contention, at this point in time, are Hemang Badani and Irfan Pathan.