Emotional selection of seniors hurts India in South Africa | Cricket

Like the perfect storm, India narrowly lost the last game of the tour to wrap up the trip.

It’s not that India hasn’t had such crushing defeats in the past, but it’s the context in which this defeat happened that makes it so striking: India’s overseas performance and results have improved and they played against the weakest South African team ever on tour Indian team ever encountered.

Mind you, Indian cricket is not suddenly in bad health. There is enough “going right” in Indian cricket to consider this a bump in the road in a few years. At least, if the right measures are taken.

I found a parallel in both the Test and the one day defeats – the same mistakes were responsible for both defeats. Team selection!

In particular, let the vested responsibility prevail despite adequate warnings and notices that it would come back to hurt you. Refusing to look beyond the aging, well “past their best” players cost India the Test series and the same approach cost them the one-day players.

With all due respect to Bhuvneshwar Kumar, did his performance in the series come as a surprise? That Ashwin wasn’t the trailblazing spinner India wanted did that come as a shock to us too?

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As with the batters in the Tests, also with Bhuvi, there is ample evidence that he is struggling to be the bowler he used to be, but India still had him in the squad and what’s worse, played him for Deepak Chahar ( similar to kind of bowler, but at best) in the matches that mattered. Bhuvi is a diligent, likeable cricketer, but he was simply unable to pull off the impressive feats of his past. India again paid the price for not accepting a reality of life and sport that everyone has a shelf life.

Lately Indian cricket has been too nice and I think emotionally about their senior incumbents as there cannot be any cricket logic in such rosters. Chahar immediately proved the selectors wrong by getting the ball moving and getting early wickets. India went on to take 10 wickets in the final ODI, their best bowling performance of the series.

Ashwin is another senior player who was on the squad and also in the playing XI for the first two ODIs and did exactly what he was doing in white-ball cricket all along: not be the Ashwin of Tests. To be fair there were a few catches from his bowling but what eventually came out was a repeat of years past – Ashwin didn’t give himself the best chance of getting wickets.

He threw three overs of nice, flipped off spin in the second one and I got excited, thinking maybe the penny has finally dropped, before going back to his carrom balls and bowling flat non-off spin, ending up with exactly the same kind of return that he has had in cricket with white balls.

At the same time, if you keep playing older players and ignore the current reality, you also give yourself less time to keep supporting the younger players. As India lost the two one-day matches, they couldn’t play against Venkatesh Iyer in the last one as India was now desperate for the win. Indian cricket is not in ill health but is currently going through a phase of poor selections.

There’s a good chance India will do what was required at the start of both the Tests and ODI series, look for players in their prime or with potential, and leave out the players whose skills are clearly dulled…cost not true?

Smart selectors, captains and coaches must anticipate and make changes to prevent impending crises, rather than being forced to change after a crisis. The stain will remain if you react late.

This is what I think India should be doing now.

The selectors need to spread the net and look for some solid middle-class hitters. With Pant in the middle, they would be wise to look for the less flashy and more Kohli-esque batter who can keep ticking off the 1s and 2s, knock the odd ball across the ground for 4s and eventually fail out is at 130, winning games for India just like Kohli did.

Time also to go back to Kuldeep Yadav in 50-overs cricket, give youngsters the long rope.

Along with him, India needs another pure wrist spinner as a backup for Chahal, in case Chahal struggles to recover his lost mojo.

With Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Chahar, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur and Prasidh Krishna, there is plenty of seaming talent available. Add in two reliable middle-ranking hitters and two wrist spinners and India will be a strong force in ODIs as they were before the 2019 World Cup.

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