MS Dhoni is “unavailable” — by which I guess his phone is off the hook?

That is one way of getting the selectors off the hook – become “unavailable”. No reason given, none asked for, both by design.

The selectors are saved from having to either raise eyebrows by picking MS Dhoni for the ODI squad or risk the anger of a legion of fans by dropping him; Dhoni is saved from calling a definitive time-out on his career with the attendant problem of deterioration of brand value; plus, he gets to become “available” whenever it suits him, at which point the next bunch of selectors can grapple with the problem. Neat.

(PS to the above: Dinesh Karthik’s phone is working, but no one called. In other words, his career is done and dusted. While I am personally of the view that with the return of Wriddhiman Saha and the rise of Rishabh Pant. Karthik is a bit of a supernumerary, the manner of his exit still leaves a bad taste in the mouth. He was picked in the World Cup squad to play who knows what role; he was experimented with as a middle-order batsman once the “think tank” realised that three batsmen can’t do it all; he was reduced to the role of coming in at precarious positions and either having to hit from ball one because his betters had left it too late, or trying to revive an innings because his betters had mucked it up. He had no really defined role in the side, and he has been judged and found wanting even absent that role definition.

He must now be wishing he had done an Ambati Rayudu and quit on his own — which reminds me, the selectors say Vijay Shankar — last seen bringing drinks out despite a “toe niggle” that kept him out of the playing eleven — is still unavailable because said toe is still niggling. Compound fractures have set in less time than this mysterious toe has taken to heal itself.)

There are intriguing questions about all three squads. For the red ball version, Wriddhiman Saha comes back into the lineup – as what? First choice keeper?

Rishabh Pant is the designated keeper for both ODIs and T20s on this tour, so the tea leaves suggest Saha will play the Tests. If that happens, it is hard lines on Pant, who in his brief 9-Test career has centuries against England. His first was at the Oval, where he came in for the second innings with Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihara scoring a grand total of 38 runs between them (Rahane scored 37 of those), and teamed up with KL Rahul in a 204-run partnership that mitigated the extent of the team’s defeat.

He then scored two successive 90s against the West Indies, at Rajkot and Hyderabad, and his last Test outing was a 159 not out (189 balls) against an Australian attack led by Starc and Cummins with Lyon and Hazelwood in support.

How do you tell the guy he is second choice wicket-keeper behind Saha, whom he betters in both average and strike rate (not that the latter is a defining criterion, but the likes of Adam Gilchrist have demonstrated the value of a wicket-keeper batsman who can take the game to the opposition)?

The Test bowling lineup has a sufficiency of quicks, two spinners, and one all-rounder who bowls spin. Given that the Windies have no spin bowler of any quality to call on, you don’t expect to see turning tracks – so the likeliest lineup will be three pace, one spin, and one spin-bowling all-rounder who can bat as high as seven (Jadeja, unless the team management is brave enough to punt on Ashwin at seven, to fit Kuldeep, or a fourth seamer, into the starting eleven.)

Agarwal and Rahul seem slated to open; Pujara and Kohli make up numbers three and four. At five, you have to pick between Rahane, Rohit Sharma, and Hanuma Vihari and I am damned if I can see how Rohit figures in this equation.

The other interesting aspect of the Test squad is that the selectors haven’t opted to try out any new bowlers, which seems a bit of a wasted opportunity.

Question: Who is the vice-captain for the Test squad? Rohit is clearly named as Virat’s understudy in both ODIs and T20s, but there is no VC for the Tests. It’s a peculiar – and telling – omission.

As far as the one-day squad goes, the question is who bats at numbers four and five. “We needed a batsman in the middle order,” coach Ravi Shastri bemoaned after India was drop-kicked out of the World Cup by New Zealand, belatedly discovering what almost everyone else was saying since the squad was picked.

Given that, the point of interest was always going to be how the selectors were going to solve that problem – and it appears that Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey and KL Rahul will compete for those two places.

Rohit and Shikhar will reunite at the top, with Kohli at three, two of Shreyas, Manish and Rahul at four and five, Rishabh at six and Jadeja at seven. Personally, I’d love to see Manish and Shreyas making it to the eleven – shoe-horning an opener into the middle order is not a “solution”, it merely makes Rahul neither fish nor fowl.

Props for picking two young bowlers in Navdeep Saini and Khaleel Ahmed, but what on earth is Kedar Jadhav doing in the squad? As far as bits and pieces all-rounders go, Jadhav has clearly shown that he is neither a ‘bit’ of any substance, or a ‘piece’ of anything tangible in terms of composition and balance, so… why?

Again, the question I am waiting to see answered: When, towards the second half of an ODI, Kohli goes off to field in the deepest parts of the ground, who will be his proxy for setting the field? Will he depend on Rohit, or will he call the play himself? There has been considerable talk that Rohit is peeved over Kohli making Dhoni the de facto vice captain, and thus implying a certain lack of trust in his, Rohit’s, leadership abilities. Be interesting to keep an eye on this.

The next multi-lateral engagement is the World T20 championships — and the selectors seem to have thrown everything they can find into the pot (the two Chahars, Krunal Pandya, Washington Sundar…) leaving it up to the captain and coach to figure things out.

Against the world champions in this format, Bhuvi will lead an attack that features two newbies in Khaleel and Navdeep; the plan seems to be pace-off through the middle overs, and a fingers-crossed hope that through trial and error they will find someone to bowl with Bhuvi at the death.

The only certainties are Rohit, Dhawan, Kohli, Pant and Bhuvaneshwar (also Jadeja in all probability). The rest of the line up seems to be a case of making it up as we go along — which is a bit odd because, as pointed out multiple times in course of the recent World Cup, a good team beds down its most likely eleven a good 12 months before a multi-national tournament.

All that said, it is not as bad a selection as some recent ones, including the squad for the World Cup. The name I had hoped to see – particularly in the 15 for the Tests and ODIs? Shubhman Gill.

The Teams:

Tests: KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha, Rishabh Pant, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jaspreet Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav

ODIs: Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Kedhar Jadhav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed, Navdeep Saini.

T20s: Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Krunal Pandya, Rahul Chahar, Deepak Chahar, Washington Sundar, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Khaleel Ahmed, Navdeep Saini.

 

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