Thursday, June 20, 2013

When Selectors Are Blind

This is probably not the best time to write something about the Indian selectors being utterly brainless, but I'm afraid it has to be said when they make a blunder that is so obvious that someone should be losing their job over it. But then I guess panel after panel has done it so it's no surprise this one has as well.

I am absolutely sick of people hyping Rohit Sharma as one of the most talented batsman in India. He has played 91 ODIs and managed to score at an average of just 31.45. Unlike batsmen like Sehwag, Raina & Yuvraj, he hasn't even made up for it with a high strike rate. Infact, all three of them have a better average and strike rate than him. They also have a better ratio of Innings/50. One cannot even make the argument that he hasn't got a chance to make big scores as he has batted in the top 5 more often than Yuvraj or Raina.

Inns in Top 5 (%)
Strike Rate
Virender Sehwag
Yuvraj Singh
Suresh Raina
Rohit Sharma

But the enthusiasm to announce that Rohit Sharma is finally living up to his God-like potential has reached annoying levels in this Champions Trophy. It certainly helps a lot when everyone is scoring runs around you and the team is winning. It also helps when you have been involved in four consecutive 50-run partnerships for the opening wicket after your team has been struggling to get off to solid starts for months.

While it would be unfair to say that Rohit Sharma has batted badly in this tournament, it would also be misleading to say that he has shown improvement or progress. Yes, he averages 42.50 in the four matches. By his mediocre standards, it is quite an achievement. But look at how his peers have fared in this tournament.

Shikhar Dhawan, his opening partner, has outscored him in each of the four innings. He averages over a hundred in this tournament and has scored his runs at almost run a ball compared to Sharma's strike rate of 76.71, which is actually lower than his career strike rate.

The good starts & the comparatively low targets have meant that the middle order hasn't had a lot of work to do. Despite that, both Kohli and Karthik average far more than Sharma. Yes, their averages have been boosted by two not outs each, but they've also not had the opportunity to make big scores. Also, they've scored their runs at a reasonably faster rate. Infact, every Indian batsman who has batted in this tournament has a better strike rate than Rohit Sharma.

Strike Rate
Shikhar Dhawan
Rohit Sharma
Virat Kohli
Dinesh Karthik

Now, the first question that comes to mind is who would open the batting if not for Rohit Sharma? Well, Rohit has never been an opening batsman in the first place. Dinesh Karthik, on the other hand, has opened in test cricket and done reasonably well. He batted ahead of Rohit Sharma throughout the IPL. However, he doesn't have a great ODI record although he's been in form of late. There is also Murali Vijay but I believe he is a worse option than Rohit, if that were even possible.

However, there is one batsman who seems to have been consistently snubbed by the selectors when it comes to ODIs - Cheteshwar Pujara. He bats in the top 4 in List A matches and has an average of 56.97. Rohit Sharma, on the other hand, averages 37.96 if you take away the ODIs he's played.

Pujara was the leading scorer in the 2012 Challenger Trophy, scoring 361 runs with two hundreds and a fifty. He was dismissed only once and he scored faster than run a ball. The next highest scorers in the tournament were Shikhar Dhawan & Murali Vijay, both of whom are part of the Champions Trophy squad. Dhawan, infact, is the leading scorer in the Champions Trophy. Rohit Sharma, on the other hand, played just one List A match all season and got out for a duck. He did, however, open the batting in two ODIs against England and scored 83 and 4 in those two games.

Pujara was also the leading scorer in the 2006 Under-19 World Cup that featured players like Eoin Morgan, Nasir Jamshed, Shakib Al Hasan, and...wait for it...Rohit Sharma! Not only that, he opened for India in that tournament and was unbeaten in 3 of the 6 innings. He has the highest average for an opening batsman in Under-19 World Cups. He has only played 13 tests so far, most of which were in the subcontinent. But when pushed to open, he has scored at an average of over 100 and a strike rate of 75. If the argument is made that test cricket is different from ODIs, one can also point out that performances in the IPL which is played over 20 overs should not be used to pick players for 50-over cricket.

Given that English conditions were expected to assist fast bowlers & that we have two different balls from either end, it would have made a lot of sense of pick someone like Pujara. He even had a good tour of England for India-A in 2010, when he the leading scorer & had the best average in the tri-series. Just to put that into perspective, that series featured Shikhar Dhawan, Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott & Ravi Bopara. Each of these batsmen will play the final of the Champions Trophy on Sunday, while Pujara wasn't even considered good enough to be in the 30 probables for India. There was a lame excuse offered in the form of him leading the India-A side to the tour of South Africa should it clash with the Champions Trophy. But that series starts from 8th August and yet when the list of 15 came out, Pujara's name was predictably missing.

I have no idea how any selector can overlook these facts. It is utterly ridiculous that these guys are paid millions of bucks every year to make such dumb calls. Actually, maybe I do. Because it seems almost everyone has overlooked Pujara and when you bring it up, you're accused of being biased toward him or against Rohit Sharma. Apparently, you're being biased when you point out that a batsman with the kind of limited overs credentials Pujara has is likely to do far better than a batsman with the kind of limited overs credentials Rohit has.

Yes, Rohit has fared better than he usually does. But who is to say Pujara wouldn't have done even better? Given that his record is far superior, it is not unreasonable to expect that he would have scored a lot more runs than Rohit Sharma in this tournament. Unfortunately, we will never know because he wasn't picked and we will continue to settle for mediocrity in the form of Rohit Sharma. And for that, one can only blame the selectors who continue to overlook a batsman who has the second highest List A average of all time (Minimum 50 innings).


  1. I quite like saving Pujara just for the Tests. Its probably unfair to him but I am of the opinion that it benefits India as it keeps him fresh and hungry for Tests

    Rohit Sharma has played well in England and I would like to give him a lot of credit for that.

    And if you want to pick on the selectors then lets talk about Sachin :-) my favorite topic. Once you make an exception that someone will be picked in spite of non performance, it opens the door for all sorts of selection foolishness.

  2. Cheteshwar Pujara should definitely be in the team for all formats. It will round out his game and help him in Tests too. Show me one cricketer who has succeeded in Tests like Pujara has, and failed in other formats. The claim that one-day cricket will spoil his technique doesn't wash either, because he is playing T20... Appreciate the detailed blog even if I subscribe to the view that Rohit should be given a very long rope. I am adding your blog to the blog roll on my site which I recently revived - Cricketkeeper -