The good news for Indian cricket last week was not only Saturday’s sensational tied ODI against New Zealand which has kept the series alive, but also that the BCCI has allowed Vijay Zol to play next week’s Ranji Trophy final.
The implications of the decision about Zol’s are far-reaching, but we’ll get to that after addressing the tied 3rd ODI and India’s roller-coaster ride against New Zealand.
The heroics of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja salvaged the match, but India’s number 1 ranking is still under threat and there is hard work ahead for Dhoni and his side.
After losing the first two games, the Indians looked beleaguered and frankly inadequate in alien conditions. Remember, they had lost the ODIs in South Africa too. So, while this tied game has been a shot in the arm, it is important to analyse why the team has struggled so much.
Clearly, there is lack of cohesive effort. The batting has worked in fits and starts — and been particularly ineffective at the top. Of the batsmen, only Kohli and Dhoni have looked the part consistently. The bowling has been uniformly poor with Shami Ahmed — riding some luck — the only one looking like a wicket-taker.
This does not augur well for the side with only a year remaining for the World Cup.
There have been several churlish and snide allusions to Dhoni’s preference for certain players. Such reactions are inevitable when the side isn’t doing well, but the Indian captain cannot ignore results.
I don’t believe his choices are dictated by club loyalty or personal friendship, but the captain will have to test out enough players to form the nucleus of the World Cup squad: and those who don’t perform well consistently must be benched irrespective of their reputation.
Moving on to the Ranji Trophy, it’s been a riveting year in the premier domestic tournament, starting with Sachin Tendulkar’s match-winning knock against Haryana and culminating next week when Karnataka square up against Maharashtra at Hyderabad.
There have been some superbly contested matches and some exciting talent has come to the fore, not the least 19-year-old Zol who was one of the architects in Maharashtra’s astonishing, back-from-the-dead victory over reigning champions Mumbai.
How unfortunate would it have been had the youngster not been allowed to play the coveted final?
Yes, Zol is captain of the under-19 team that plays the World Cup starting mid-February and was asked to be in the preparatory camp for the tournament instead of spending time with his Maharashtra teammates engaged in the final.
While there is obviously some threat of injury in playing a match, to pull Zol out of the final was absurd to say the least. Injury does not come announced; and it can also happen during net or fielding practice. What Zol would have certainly missed is the experience — for so many players this comes once-in-a-lifetime I might add. A Ranji final adds to the richness of a player’s life. That said, quality players add to the richness of the tournament too. In the past two-three decades the Ranji Trophy has been devalued because the best players have rarely been available. When they are, it seems silly that they should be rested on some spurious grounds.
For god’s sake Zol is only 19 and would be craving to play every day, every match and not being rested. Look at it another way: having led India to a win in the under-19 Asia Cup, Zol now has the chance to do an encore in the U-19 World Cup.
And what an unforgettable season it would be for him if in between if he can help Maharashtra win the Ranji Trophy! Such ambition should be stoked by throwing multiple challenges at him, not stymied by spurious concern....