Have selectors hamstrung captain rather than aid him?

The world is getting well and truly hooked to magic that is being brought home from across South Africa. Of course, these are early days in the FIFA World Cup 2010 but you can already sense the takeover is all but complete. And yet, it is hard not to glance at the Indian cricketers who have embarked on a visit to Dambulla in Sri Lanka for the Asia Cup.

The ill-advised have been saying that skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni is on trial and the team’s performance here will determine his future as helmsman. Of course, he did not seem to be his usual self in the ICC World Twenty20 in the West Indies but that should not take away from the fact that he has been one of the most remarkable Indian captains.

For all that, the selectors must give the skipper the squad that he deserves. While the wise men may empower him with the best XI nearly always, I am not sure they spend any time thinking about the kind of reserves who should be making up the rest of the squad. For when you speak of balance, it is not just about finding the right combination in the playing XI but also in the kind of reserves available.

We will get a good idea when we look at what happened in Zimbabwe where India had to play Naman Ojha as an opening batsman in its final game of the triseries because Murali Vijay was so out of depth in the earlier games. Now, Naman Ojha was chosen more as second wicket-keeper than a reserve specialist opener. The team management had to perforce include him in the XI because it has no option once it decided to leave Vijay to warm the benches.

I am hoping that India does not face a similar situation in the Asia Cup. If you are wondering why, you just have to look at the 11 that India is likely to field in the first game: Sehwag, Gambhir, Kohli, Rohit, Raina, Dhoni, Jadeja, Harbhajan, Praveen, Zaheer and Nehra. The four who may sit out are Tiwary, Dinda, Ojha and Ashwin.

Does it make sense to have just one specialist batsman and three bowlers, including two spinners, among the reserves? Tamil Nadu off-spinner R Ashwin did play well on debut in India’s last match in the Zimbabwe triseries but the selectors did not really need include him in the squad for Sri Lanka. It is not as if he is going to push Harbhajan Singh for a place in the XI.

So, instead of arming the captain with better options, the selectors may have only hamstrung him a fair bit.

There is one more thought that the recent selections have sparked in my mind: It is time to stop pretending that IPL should be seen as a stepping stone to the Indian one-day international team. A series of lusty blows or a few good overs in IPL games should not be misconstrued as ability to do well in the longer version of the game as well.  Even if cricket is simply a contest between bat and ball, each format calls upon different temperaments and that is something that the selectors must keep in mind when picking Indian teams.

You will hear a cacophony if the team does not live up to expectations – and as a nation, even if we do not usually excel in everything we do, we expect the cricketers to deliver only victories and not fall short. And at that time, with the whole focus on Dhoni and not the selectors, everyone will display a herd mentality and bay for blood. The good thing is: This time around, the cacophony will be drowned by the magical notes flowing from the football carnival in the rainbow nation.