Vantage point

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Chawla in, Kartik out

The most interesting decision by the selection committee which announced the team for the first test against England is not dropping Ganguly or dropping Zaheer Khan. It is dropping Murali Kartik and picking Piyush Chawla instead.

Now ever since I saw Chawla bowling on TV a few months back, I was immediately intrigued. Here was a rare creature, a genuine genuine leg spinner, the kind that rips the ball, and gives it many revs. Prima facie he didn't look like a run-of-the-mill-quasi-leggie of the Hirwani or Bahutule variety. He seemed to have a lot of promise. Of course, this was at a time when UP was probably doomed for relegation. Then the UP fightback started, with Chawla picking up wickets regularly. Come Challenger, and the famous Tendulkar endorsement came. Then the Ranji knock out stage and the U-19.

A leggie like Chawla is surely a rarity, and it is precisely for this reason that the selectors need to plot his career wisely. All said and done, the guy is just one season old. This elevation may see him flourish, but again, it may also see his career end prematurely. I hope the selectors and Chappell have thought carefully about him.

As far as Kartik is concerned, one can't help but feel sorry for him. In test matches, he isn't a patch on Kumble when it comes to wicket-taking ability. He also lacks the variety of Kumble. And at best he is as good as Harbhajan. Early in his career, Ganguly's captaincy and blatant preference for Harbhajan gave Kartik grief. But even under Dravid, his performance, though largely improved, is not good enough to make him an automatic selection. In one-dayers even though he had decent outings against the Lankans and the South Africans, he was pathetic in Pakistan, and if you watched it live like I did, you will agree he was largely responsible for the only defeat we had, with his confused brainless bowling.

Plus the fact that pushing him for a spot in the side was a member of that romanticised species - the genuine leg spinner. It's as if the elements conspired to keep him out and he didn't fight back. The Indian cricket scene is too crowded to give you too many chances to prove yourself. You grab on to what you get and make the most of them.

Another cruel fact about Indian cricket is that you need to grab headlines to cement your place in the side. Once those headlines assure you of a place in the side, you get many chances. Look at Harbhajan or Yuvraj or Agarkar. But if that initial cementing-with-headlines is not done, there's always a sword hanging over your head. Murali Kartik, despite being around for a couple of seasons, never really made the headlines. Half the times, it was due to a captain who did not believe in him. But the other half of the time, he was just competent and not sensational.