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
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,
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
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
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
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