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Selectors_cricket_players_substitutesGiven Parthiv Patel's phenomenal comeback recently, I would like to think that it is never curtains for any player till they decide to pull them down on their own career. India stands at a never-before juncture in 2017, endowed with a surfeit of batting riches all of a sudden. Shikhar Dhawan, who kicked off his career with a big 100 on Test debut, could reach a high of only 27 runs in his last five innings before being dropped. He must be ruing his loss of form for sure. Gautam Gambhir would have thanked his stars for a second chance at a possible comeback, but he did not use it well.

Think for a while. What does one do if a stopgap cricketer, stepping in as a substitute for a higher-profile cricketer, does much more than what the man he replaced would have? As an analogy, imagine a professional who is hired in place of someone on leave. He comes in, and quietly works wonders for the firm. When the time comes for the one substituted to join duty again, this professional is thanked for his services and asked to leave.

This situation is extremely difficult for selectors who are unbiased and impartial. Of course, tinges of prejudice makes things very easy for non-conscientious people calling the shots. While Dhawan and Gambhir are not the subjects being discussed here, the likes of Parthiv Patel, Karun Nair, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma are. And let us add Murali Vijay and KL Rahul to the mix as well.

Wriddhiman Saha is very good as a keeper and good as a batsman; as selector MSK Prasad said, he will come back for sure. So, is that a 'Thank you, Bye-Bye' for Patel? (Interestingly, Patel and Prasad were competitors in the early 2000s for the keeper's slot in the Indian Test team, long before we heard of MS Dhoni). Patel got to make a comeback, which is surely what he would have wanted all along.

What about Rahane? And don’t forget Rohit Sharma, with three fifties in his last four Test innings. Like Dhawan, Sharma had started off with a big hundred on debut. He is a regular in the ODI and T20 sides for sure, but does he (or doesn’t he) deserve what Kohli enjoys – a fixed slot in all three versions of the game? Selectors may simply mix and match and demand that cricketers adapt to all the three formats of the game. All must be ready and deserving to be called to duty anytime as members of the Test, ODI or T20 teams, or squads.  

That brings us to Karun Nair. Like Rahane, he played for the Rajasthan Royals under Dravid. Like Dravid, he plays for Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy. He is now only the second player from India to score a triple hundred. He may well have gone on to surpass Lara's 400 not out if Kohli had thought that the match would anyway end in a draw. What a knock that was!

All this is akin to having three or four plum job offers simultaneously and being spoilt for choice. One is afraid to choose, lest there be some regret at a later time over the roads not taken. Raising the bar is good indeed and it brings out the best from more and more competitors. Any decision the selectors make may seem unfair to some, but at the same time, fair to the lucky ones finding a place. Well, 'lucky' is a misnomer here. But 'unlucky' is an apt descriptor for the former.

Virat Kohli deserves to lead this current crop of cricketers – able soldiers who may keep replacing each other, but still contributing to the grander cause championed by the commander-in-chief who leads from the front and sets wonderful examples time and again.

2016 was great for Indian cricket and many Indian cricketers. What 2017 holds in store, we do not know. But yes, some surprises for sure...

 

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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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