Selection of a cricket team is one of the most difficult assignments in the sporting world. No other sport has as many parameters to judge success and as big a scope for subjective analysis as cricket.
Hence, selectors of cricket teams have to spend a great deal of their mental energy in picking a team, unless, of course, there is a well-settled side winning regularly. In India, the situation becomes even more muddled due to selectors representing different zones and supposed to serve the interests of the state boards backing them.
Certain players, over the years, not just in India but around the world, have been undeservedly dropped or not picked for reasons that were either non-existent or unjustified. Let’s look at some of the most prominent players who were denied the opportunities that should have come their way from selectors.
Picture this; a batsman is sent to Australia to play a fiery pace attack that had Mitchell Johnson at his lethal best along with two other highly competent bowlers. After suffering their onslaught for five successive matches, he is dropped in favour of a new kid when an average Sri Lankan team comes touring the home country for the next series.
This was the fate of Michael Carberry, the former English opening batsman. He was picked as the opener for England alongside Alastair Cook when England suffered a humiliating 5-0 whitewash in 2013-14 away Ashes.
The venom spewed by Mitchell Johnson in that series with the ball has become legendary. Carberry was at the receiving end of it for all five Tests and kept battling hard without getting a substantial score.
When England played their next series – vs Sri Lanka at home, he was sent packing and replaced with Sam Robson. Now, he did fail to record a good score in Australia but no other batsman returned from that series with his reputation enhanced – except Ben Stokes.
In fact, both Joe Root and Matt Prior were dropped for the last Test in Sydney but given another opportunity in the Sri Lankan series. So, Carberry had to endure a baptism by fire only to see a younger player being given an opportunity against a much more modest attack. Now, that is what you call unfair.
Now it is a fact that Ojha’s exile from the Indian team was also occasioned by doubts over his action. But well before that time, Ojha was being treated unfairly by selectors, if not national, the ones picking the final 11. Ojha had been a consistent member of the Indian team from 2010 onwards.
Yet, when India needed a second spinner to replace Harbhajan during the 2011 England tour, they opted for Amit Mishra instead of him.
In the next series, Ravichandran Ashwin was brought into the team and ended up winning the man-of-the-series award. But Ojha too picked up a rich haul of wickets.
But in the four-test series in Australia after that, Ashwin played all three matches where India fielded a spinner in spite of failing to make a mark. This despite the fact that Ojha had done really well in his stint in county cricket during 2011, thereby proving his worth in unhelpful conditions also.
Then, in the 2012 home season, Ojha emerged as India’s best bowler in the 2-1 loss to England while Ashwin failed miserably. Yet, while Ashwin was retained and Harbhajan brought back for the next two Tests against Australia, Ojha was dropped!
Imagine the batsmen who has scored the most runs and hundreds for a team in a series getting dropped from the playing 11 for the next two matches. In 2013 again, Ojha emerged as the best spinner in India’s home series against West Indies. Yet, he wasn’t given a chance to play in India’s away tours that followed.
Even though Ojha has been successfully plying his trade in first-class cricket, he hasn’t played a Test since being named man-of-the-series in 2013 against the Windies. Bowlers like Amit Mishra, Jayant Yadav and Kuldeep Yadav have been tried but he hasn’t been given another opportunity. A man with 113 wickets in just 24 matches and 7 five-wicket hauls deserves much better.
Among the many talented batsmen who have been dwelling in the first-class circuit without getting enough opportunity at the international level is Manoj Tiwary of Bengal. A competent right-handed batsman, Tiwary was brought into the Indian ODI side as early as 2008 but after just one match was sent into an exile that lasted till 2011.
That year, in the final ODI of the home series against West Indies, Tiwary scored a brilliant match-winning hundred. Yet, he wasn’t given a single match in the next two ODI tournaments that India played – a triangular series in Australia and the Asia Cup. This while two other batsmen – Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma were being persisted with despite poor returns.
Tiwary’s opportunity came in the 5-match series against hosts Sri Lanka in the second half of 2012. There too, he was played in just two matches – in the second one of which, he scored a good 65. In spite of such encouraging returns, he was never given an extended run of games to settle into the ODI team. After the Sri Lankan series, he got his next outing in an ODI played in 2014.
The final opportunity selectors afforded him was during India’s brief tour to Zimbabwe in 2015 where, after failing to shine in three ODI’s, he has remained out of international cricket.
A player of his ability should have been given more chances. When one considers the amount of support Suresh Raina received from his captain Dhoni even during tough times and the many chances given to Rohit Sharma before he came good, it seems patently unfair that Tiwary got to play only four ODIs after scoring a hundred and a 65 in three matches - that too, after a gap of two years.
Both the team management and selectors deserve criticism for denying this veteran – now 33 years old – his due share of chances.
You can be forgiven for not knowing anything about this left-arm spinner from Baroda. His fifteen minutes of fame, unfortunately, didn’t come from anything that happened on the field but due to his presence in a sting operation where he refused to get lured into spot-fixing.
But in the 2010-11 domestic season, Bhargav Bhatt emerged as the best spin bowler in the country and was the leading wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy’s elite division. His 47 wickets came in 9 matches at an average of just over 21 and strike-rate of 45.
So, you would have expected him to be given a chance to prove his mettle in international cricket. But the selectors didn’t just deny him an opportunity to play for the national team but even ignored him for the Rest of India Irani Cup squad!
What makes the whole case outrageous was the decision of the selectors to give Punjab’s leg-spinner Rahul Sharma a place in both the Indian one-day and Test team as well as the Irani Cup squad. This despite the bowler having a very ordinary first-class record.
So, why did the selectors take such an unfair call? Simply because the leg-spinner from Punjab had done well in IPL while Bhatt hadn’t. So, IPL performances were being given primacy over the hard yards done in Ranji Trophy.
The whole idea of Irani Cup is to have the best players of the season performing against the champion side. Yet, Bhatt was superseded by Sharma there too.
Bhatt has now disappeared into the mass of first-class cricketers and no longer likely to come back into the team.
Towards the end of the previous decade, it seemed that England were blessed with an unending supply of high-quality pace bowlers. One of them who impressed everyone with his performances was Graeme Onions from Durham.
He made an impressive debut in the 2009 home Ashes series but missed a lot of subsequent cricket due to injury. He returned to county cricket eventually and by 2012 seemed to be back at the top of his game.
A typical English bowler, Onions was adept at moving the ball in the air and off the deck. When England decided to rest both James Anderson and Stuart Broad for the final Test of the three-match series against West Indies in 2012, Onions was brought back into the team and he emerged as the best bowler on show with a 4-fer in the first innings.
His performance in county circuit continued to improve and by 2013, he was England’s best bowler outside international cricket and some even suggested, the best bowler not playing Test cricket in the world.
He got picked for the 2013 home Ashes series and was in the squad when a Test took place at his home ground Durham. But not only was he ignored for the playing XI in that Test but never got an opportunity to play again for England after his appearance against West Indies.
Having produced excellent results for his county team and performed well for the national team also, when picked, surely Onions deserved more chances. Who knows, he may well have emerged as the second-best swing bowler after James Anderson.