The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shastri ‘advises’, selectors lose nerve

Nov. 8: Having been stumped first by Rahul Dravid and then Sachin Tendulkar, the senior national selectors themselves got into the act late this evening.

Indeed, instead of promoting ODI and Twenty20 captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, as was widely expected, Dilip Vengsarkar and his colleagues appointed Anil Kumble as captain for the three-Test series against Pakistan.

The 37-year-old Kumble, India’s most successful bowler (566 wickets in Tests and 337 in ODIs), had been tipped by The Telegraph as the dark horse.

One understands former captain and cricket manager Ravi Shastri, who was present in Mohali during the second ODI, “interacted” with the selectors and “advised” them not to “expose” Dhoni in what’s bound to be a tough series.

Just the other day, Shastri had publicly opposed Dhoni’s immediate promotion. It’s not clear in what capacity he spoke to the selectors, but he’s the National Cricket Academy chairman and very close to board president Sharad Pawar.

Till 1am on Friday, Shastri hadn’t responded to a query (sent via an SMS) from this newspaper.

Strangely, the selectors have only appointed the Test captain for the upcoming home series and not for the four matches in Australia too, as was on the cards. In other words, then, senior pro Kumble will be on trial.

When Dhoni hasn’t got the job for the Tests at home, it’s highly unlikely that he’s going to be exposed (the selectors’ way of thinking) in Australia, which will be a much more demanding series. He should, of course, keep the ODI and Twenty20 captaincy.

According to well-placed sources, Dhoni was the clear frontrunner when the selectors reached the PCA Stadium and an announcement was expected during the break. That didn’t come about.

“The bottomline is that they (the selectors) started to dither on promoting Dhoni.… The issue of vice-captaincy, in case he got the job, also became a headache. The selectors just didn’t seem confident,” a source said.

Unusually, Vengsarkar didn’t face the media.

Worse, board joint-secretary Mohinder Pandove (who convened the meeting in the absence of secretary Niranjan Shah, who’d left early in the evening) simply announced two things: No change in the squad for the next two ODIs, in Kanpur and Gwalior, and that Kumble would captain in the Tests.

Pandove walked off, declining to take any questions.

Having different captains for different forms isn’t an ideal situation, but nobody is going to question Kumble’s credentials. He’s respected far and wide and is among the most passionate to have worn the India colours.

Kumble is methodical and gentlemanly, and one can expect the Sreesanths to be quickly reined in. Also, one can look forward to more passion (as opposed to mindless aggression) on the field than seen during the Dravid era.

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