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The writer in you

Foibles in Indian selection procedures
S Balachandhran - 10 March 2002

Of late, much has been said and written about the Indian selectors and their selection procedures. Allegations as widely ranging as "zonal biases" to "personal animosity against players" to a "blind eye towards domestic cricket" have been broached and discussed threadbare by enough knowledgeable people. But the point to note is that nothing has happened to correct the blunders involved.

That great writer Rudyard Kipling once asked us to "treat those two impostors, Triumph and Disaster, just the same." An adaptation of this statement is perhaps being used for reference by our selectors. Performance and Experience are both impostors, in their books, and are treated just the same - ignored.

A precious few in our country would be aware of Indian domestic cricket and its talents, and by the looks of it, certainly not the people who matter. The people who would have been witness to many a notable performance in our domestic ranks would, most probably, have been only the scorers, umpires and the team members involved.

Objectivity has little role to play in Indian selection procedures, which are an amalgamation of the personal preferences of the selectors, the pull of the secretary or president of the Board, and the pet ideas and fancies of the captain and coach, in that order. But above all this, there is the eternal bane of Indian cricket - the Zonal system.

It is that system which is giving us our selectors too, sadly, and because of this, cricket as a career is looked upon in Mumbai, Calcutta and Bangalore as worthwhile, but elsewhere in the south, it is simply looked down upon. Every single Indian town is blessed with cricketing talent, make no mistake about that. It is just that the "coming through the ranks" phenomenon just does not transpire.

It is not just the Murali Kartiks and Debasis Mohantys who are the most unlucky players. There are truckloads of such talented people in every single Indian town that has even moderate television access. Isolated performances of our international heroes create ripples in young minds and fuel them on to seeing cricket as something akin to religion. Believe me, I have been part of enough early-teen groups in which boys who could not remember the bowling average of Phil DeFreitas or run aggregate of Martin Crowe would not even deserve a second look; such was the passion involved.

Team elevens (in some cases fourteens!) for all Test-playing nations would be on the fingertips of each boy. Complex discussions over the Duckworth-Lewis method and its implications, or over the art of reverse-swing, were not uncommon. We would be able to talk knowledgeably on any specific aspect of cricket, and each one would figure as a vital cog in the cricket mechanism of their own schools. But not one of them would take up the sport as their career.

The situation can be extended to passionate players who who have not been selected in spite of repeatedly strong performances. They remain either completely ignored or, as fringe players, relegated to the state of fighting to maintain their position in the team. There are probably more than two dozen players worth mentioning here, but time and my own knowledge prevents me from featuring every one of them. But four of the most unlucky players to have played in India spring immediately to mind - Robin Singh, Sridharan Sharath, Murali Kartik, Debasis Mohanty.

It is, incidentally, to be borne in mind that I have not listed players who have either been sidelined by controversy or injury (Ajay Jadeja, Nayan Mongia, Saba Karim) or players who have simply had to compete with stiff competition (Sarandeep Singh, Sunil Joshi).

Out of the four players mentioned, the first two are too far gone into the twilight of their illustrious domestic careers to make an entry into the Indian squad. In the case of Robin Singh, it has also been a sterling one-day career. For some unknown reason, our wise selectors decided not to blood him when he was young and quite a tearaway. Even when he was finally catapulted into the scheme of things, no due consideration was given to him and his performances. Every day and every game was a fight for his place, and for his part, Robin Singh was a whole-hearted scrapper who took things in his stride and conquered obstacles with masterly performances.

Sharath is a notable figure in yet another of the selection fiascos in India. Any number of centuries and fifties will seemingly not get him near even the Indian 'A' team. What more can a batsman do besides score runs? Almost every season, Sharath has been one of the cornerstones of the Tamil Nadu state team, a truly dedicated professional.

Kartik is a casualty of our current captain's opinions about orthodox left-arm spinners. What our captain and our acquiescing selectors do not understand is that there is no specific brand of bowling - pace, spin or seam - which is better than all else. Every type of bowling serves its purpose in a specific scenario and under certain conditions. Unconditional support or mindless disregard of any one breed of bowling is a disaster waiting to happen. This not-so-young man now has, of late, some fine and defiant displays of batting under his belt. He should be a rightful contender for the stock spinner's slot that is going to be empty after Anil Kumble retires. A man who has such big shoes to fill in must be groomed, regardless of the situation.

A look at Mohanty's performances for India would leave foreign cricket coaches/captains flabbergasted as to why he is not a regular fixture in the side. But it is still so. The reason given, I hear, is that he is not a good end-game bowler. But which Indian bowler, apart from the indefatigable Kumble, is? One hopeful sign is the fact that the selectors have at least given him a look-in for the India 'A' tour to South Africa. He is, without doubt, one of the best and most deceptive swing bowlers in the country. His skills are being wasted on the flat lands of the Indian cricket stadia, away from all limelight.

Finally, the selectors' business should also include such mundane assignments as watching the Deodhar and Ranji trophy matches and presenting suitable logic for each of their selection options. Often we hear things said about improving the grass-roots system in India. There is, unfortunately, no such system here at the grass-roots to develop, especially with reference to talent identification and development. Dennis Lillee's effort at the MRF Pace Academy are just the beginning, and so is the recently started spin academy.

Points of contact at city/town level must be maintained in order to identify and usher talent to the next level - the city leagues. Every major city league must have a talent-spotting and reporting mechanism that identifies talented youngsters at the right time. Gifted youngsters must then have a sponsored stint with a district/regional team. From then on, the players traverse the normal routes from region to state to the national team. We are talking, thus, of a time-frame of about six-seven years. Ideally, then, talent must be identified at age 14 and groomed to the stage where the boy can make his national debut at 20.

Journalists and scribes also have a great role to play in this process. Making or breaking a cricketer is not as easy for journalists as, say, doing the same to an artist, where the whole community thrives on the reviews of a few connoisseurs of the art form. Cricket is fortunately very well understood at most levels of society, so talent cannot be easily buried under a lot of print. But the power and need of appreciation is something very apparent in the paper-cutting- collection mania found in most youngsters. India, unlike many other developed countries, has a deep reservoir of talent waiting to serve the nation, and the journalist's clan has a job cut out for it - weed out the mediocrity and usher in the brilliance.

It just requires a deft eye to spot these raw young diamonds. With some moulding, and after scraping off some of the dirt in terms of technique-refinement, media handling, sports psychology and such, the player can show off his glimmer for the entire world to see and be India's pride.

The views expressed above are solely those of the guest contributor and are carried as written, with only minor editing for grammar, to preserve the original voice. These contributed columns are solely personal opinion pieces and reflect only the feelings of the guest contributor. Their being published on does not amount to an endorsement by CricInfo's editorial staff of the opinions expressed.
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