<b>Close-in:</b> ODI team selection far from ideal
England will commence their first one-day game of the year against India on January 15 at Pune. The Test series was a complete disaster for them. One hopes a Christmas and New Year break has erased the memories of their defeat and that they come firing on all cylinders. The English side under the captaincy of Eoin Morgan will play three one-day games at Pune, Cuttack and Kolkata. One-day cricket somehow due to the bowling and fielding restrictions has made contests less one sided. On a given day, even a minnow can make a dent in the fortunes of a power-packed in-form established side. Fortunately, the winter weather will be better suited for England. With the wickets less dry, the Indian spin attack may not have the same effect and result that led to the English side’s defeat in the Test series. Furthermore, the absence of close catchers will allow them to bat more freely and without additional pressure.
The Indian selectors, I feel, have faltered in selecting the one-day side. The ODI World Cup in 2019, to be held in England and Wales, should have been the focus for team selection. The inclusion of Yuvraj Singh is one such selection that does give one the feeling that the selectors were looking for a short, quick gain rather than thinking about the future. Yuvraj has not been at his best as a batsman in recent times. Given his age and susceptibility to swing bowling, Yuvraj would not be an ideal player in English conditions. The selectors should have pursued with Karun Nair instead, especially after his magnificent triple century in the final Test against England in Chennai. The shots he played to accelerate the scoring rate showed that he has the ability and skill to perform well in the short format of the game as well.
Dhoni, India’s most successful limited over captain, once again showed his unpredictable character. Just a few days before the selection of the Indian side, he decided to step down as skipper. He is an ideal one-day player and a superb athlete. One does understand his usefulness and capabilities, but the time I feel is for him to leave the field gracefully. There have been several cases earlier of captains stepping down and continuing as players, but MSD, as he is popularly known, has been at the helm for 10 years and players around him will feel a bit uncomfortable relating to a former leader.
A clean break at times is essential as regards leadership, and for Virat Kohli the presence of a successful former leader under his command can be a daunting experience. Comparisons between the two will definitely emerge if the team’s performance dwindles. Although it may be a drastic step, the selectors needed to bite the bullet and give Dhoni a deserving farewell. Every Indian cricket supporter, including me, is a fan of captain cool, but there comes a time when the responsibility of the future needs to be handed over to make way for the next generation.
The other major disappointment was the lack of importance given to the Ranji Trophy. The selectors have been very considerate with the present Indian squad by allowing them to avoid playing for their respective state sides. For a state team, the knockout phase is a very important milestone in their progress. Players who were recovering from injuries were surprisingly fit and included in the side for the practice games against England. Hardik Patel and Ajinkya Rahane should have been playing in the Ranji Trophy final. This would not only have given them match practice, but would have also established their fitness. One of the most aspirational desires for a cricketer is to play a national final. To be a part of the winning side is a dream that Mumbai players have experienced on 41 occasions. Tamil Nadu, without Ravichandran Ashwin, Gujarat without Hardik Patel and Dhoni’s absence from Jharkhand are some of the examples of players and selectors not taking the premium national tournament seriously. Earning a place in the semifinal and taking first innings lead against Gujarat was a historic feat for Jharkhand and if Dhoni had adorned his whites rather than just being a mentor, maybe Jharkhand could have scripted history. Not every player has the good fortune of playing for his country. For those who can’t make it to the national side, playing in the Ranji Trophy is a tale that they carry with them forever. The Mumbai Ranji side has had players like Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Manjrekar and many of the earlier stalwarts who at their very peak came out to play for their state team. For them, playing for the state side was just as important as playing for the country.
One feels sorry for Ajinkya Rahane, who must be wondering why, despite having recovered from injury, was he selected to lead a practice side against England at the Cricket Club of India rather than playing the Ranji Trophy final for Mumbai. The future of Indian cricket is in its domestic structure and it needs the presence of the present stars to improve the quality.
Finally, the absence of a crowd to watch the Ranji final in Indore speaks volumes of the failure of the neutral venue scheme. A sad tale of an idea gone wrong.

(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Indian cricketer)
Columnist: 
Yajurvindra Singh
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