September is always an interesting month in Indian cricket. It’s that time of the year when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) conducts its Annual General Meeting (AGM). In a nutshell, it’s hire and fire time!
However, in all likelihood, the September 27 AGM will be delayed since the issue of whether N Srinivasan can attend the meeting has not been resolved.
It is at the AGM where the national selectors are replaced or retained and some time this year, the BCCI will have to take a call on whether Sandeep Patil and his team of national selectors should stay.
Indian cricket selectors (from left) Vikram Rathour, Rajinder Singh Hans, Sandeep Patil (chairman), Roger Binny and Syed Saba Karim watch an India A vs West Indies game at the Brabourne Stadium last year. Pic/Atul Kamble
Whatever the outcome, they have done a commendable job by taking some tough decisions and exposing youth to international cricket at the right time. No selection panel scores 10 on 10 but Patil’s team of Roger Binny, Vikram Rathour, Syed Saba Karim and Rajinder Singh Hans have had more hits than misses in the last three years.
I learnt that these men were handpicked in 2012 by then BCCI Secretary Sanjay Jagdale, who was given a free hand by president N Srinivasan. I’m not surprised, because no matter how power-hungry Srinivasan may appear to be, he has made some good cricketing decisions.
Jagdale thought well in the limited time he had before that AGM to pick the best men to chart Indian cricket’s future amidst all the politicking that takes place in the run-up to BCCI AGMs. He contacted the candidates a day before the AGM and ensured the names were not leaked to the media. To think about Patil, whom he had worked with at his home state Madhya Pradesh, was some kind of a masterstroke. The Indian Premier League spot-fixing controversy robbed Indian cricket of a fine administrator like Jagdale, who, in his own quiet way, dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s when it came to cricketing matters over all age groups. But he chose to resign as BCCI secretary due to the messy state of the game.
It’s not an easy job being a selector although they get paid nowadays. One never really gets to know whether a player is picked by the selectors or if the captain/coach insisted on his inclusion. These sort of details will never emerge even in the reintroduced post-selection media interactions with the chairman. For example, there was a big hue and cry in the media when Stuart Binny was picked for last year’s England tour by a committee which his father Roger was a part of, but we heard from the grapevine that then Test skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher were more keen on Stuart being part of the tour party than the selectors.
What is probably most commendable is that the batsmen have vindicated the selectors’ faith in them. Look at the names which had to be replaced… Sachin Tendulkar, who retired in 2013, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh, who probably would have been given a longer rope by a weaker selection chief. Patil was hell bent on awarding Shikhar Dhawan a Test cap in Mohali against Australia in 2013. He did not find enough support at the meeting and walked out in a huff. Ultimately, Dhawan got picked and scored 187 on debut. Patil continues to be a good judge of talent and although he was instrumental in dropping Gambhir, he always felt that Dhawan will not be a misfit in the era of Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman. Patil had also marked out Laxman as a future Test player in his India Under-19 days.
The selectors also have to be credited for picking Ajinkya Rahane at the right time and warding off suggestions to make him an opening batsman. There may be a debate as to where he is best suited — No 3 or No 5 — but making Rahane open at the start of his career could have been disastrous. The selections of pacers Mohammad Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar apparently came about due to the selectors’ insistence to skipper Dhoni and coach Fletcher, it is learnt.
The decisions which raised eyebrows were Karn Sharma for the 2014-15 Tests in Australia and the non-inclusion of Murali Vijay in the World Cup squad after his good showing in the Test series Down Under. However, the team management’s call to include Sharma in the playing XI instead of R Ashwin for the opening Test at Adelaide provided some indication as to who, apart from the selectors, could have been behind that decision.
In Patil & Co’s tenure, India won the Champions Trophy in 2013 and ended their impressive 2015 World Cup campaign with a loss in the semi-finals to eventual champions Australia, but their overseas Test performance needs significant improvement. This month’s triumph in Sri Lanka was India’s first overseas Test series win since 2011. That borders on catastrophe.
However, the current selectors score high on fairness and diligence. If they are replaced, they will provide their successors some room for emulation. If retained, not many can say they didn’t deserve another term.
Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor