There was a time when an Indian selection committee meeting was guaranteed to be the harbinger of lively, or even hostile, debate. It would start discussions that went on into the wee hours, it would entail a feverish searching of stats databases, and be the recipe for impassioned arguments.
In the selection meeting on Tuesday (May 8) by contrast, this was all very muted, which is very unique given that six teams were picked. The single biggest point of contention that has emerged instead, is whether Virat Kohli is ‘disrespecting’ the Afghanistan cricket team by being absent from their inaugural Test and playing for Surrey instead. Or, in varieties of that point of view, whether he should be allowed to skip a Test match involving his country to go and play for a county.
The matter has already been discussed at length in these pages by R Kaushik, covering all aspects of the decision.
The point of disrespecting Afghanistan or the country versus county debate flared up again, and was even discussed at length in the press conference immediately following the selection meeting. Amitabh Choudhary, the BCCI secretary, said, “Essentially the impression which might have gone around is wrong and our focus remains Test cricket. We continue to believe that it is one format which is not only the genesis of cricket in the world but is something that we need to nurse all the time… Any act has to be judged by the intention which precedes it. There was no intention not to play. It was only because the English challenge is something which we have to rise to, to the satisfaction of the entire cricket fraternity of this country, that Virat will abstain for the right reasons.”
Leaving aside the labyrinthian language, there is a point that Choudhary has. Afghanistan have never played Test cricket, and even without Kohli, they are unlikely to beat India. That doesn’t mean Kohli shouldn’t play them, all other things being equal. But all other things are not equal in this case.
It is a reality of international schedules as they stand that there isn’t enough room for everyone to be available to play every opponent, every time. To that end, the fact is that India will have a long tour of England and the only window Kohli has of experiencing red-ball cricket in the country is in June. There is no other window – not until science evolves enough to recalibrate Earth’s orbit around the sun to cram more days into year. So what will serve the Indian team better? The best batsman in the side giving himself the best chance to succeed in England, or playing in one Test against Afghanistan?
Logic says it’s the former, because Kohli not playing against Afghanistan is not likely to affect India’s chances of winning the Test. If Afghanistan do upset all calculations and actually go on and beat India, then the history books will record it as a win for Afghanistan against India, there won’t be asterisks noting that a premier batsman was absent. And if they do that, then it will make it more certain that in future Tests against Afghanistan, people will think twice before skipping the match.
The bits on selection that seemed more intriguing were the fates of India’s vice-captains. Rohit Sharma is not in the red-ball side, while Ajinkya Rahane isn’t part of the white-ball teams. This, after a tour of South Africa in which Kohli included Rohit in the XI ahead of Rahane for the first two Tests – a move that caused near-universal surprise – and stated before the ODIs that the team was looking at Rahane as India’s No. 4.
So are we to now assume things have changed so much since then that Rahane is not in the frame for ODIs, and therefore not in the frame for the World Cup 2019? And that Rohit will not be in the red-ball plans for the England tour, especially given that Karun Nair – his replacement – is also the captain for the India A side that will play four-day matches in England and thus seems a better bet to have on the Test team. See how experience of England conditions matters?
Intrigue in selections aside, it is heartening to note that KL Rahul is back in all three formats. He wasn’t part of the ODI side in South Africa. When that series began, the biggest question over the Indian ODI side was the No. 4 spot. From every angle, Rahul fits that spot perfectly but he wasn’t part of the conversation then because he wasn’t in the team, when he perhaps should have been. Rahul’s luck with injuries has hurt him, but as he has shown in IPL 2018, he can be a white-ball force to reckon with. And given that he has the technique to succeed in Test cricket, he should be in the conversation for every starting XI for India in every format.
If the IPL has succeeded in making that happen, that’s in the credit ledger for the tournament.