GOOD things come to those who wait. The adage holds true in the case of Sandeep Patil, the man with a Rs 70 lakh-per-year job in Indian cricket as chairman of selectors.
A little over five years ago, Patil was frustrated at not being given extended assignments by the BCCI after a successful association with the Kenyan national team, who he guided to the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup in Southern Africa.
Even before he left the Holiday Inn Elangeni in Durban where Kenya made their exit in the tournament, he offered to assist India in any capacity. He was given charge of the ‘A’ team on his return, but never a permanent position.
He held nothing back in an interview to me in May 2007: “Last year, they wanted me to be with the ‘A’ team in Abu Dhabi. I spurned the offer. If they want me, they should give me an extended run?”
Little did he know that a certain N Srinivasan would become the BCCI president and make him chairman of selectors —according to respected expert Sanjay Manjrekar — a more influential job than that of a team coach.
Patil has worn many hats after his international career ended in 1986, but he has never been a national selector. Doubtless, he will have to cope with different kinds of challenges. It will be a pity though if he adopts a soft touch method unlike what he is believed to have adopted when he was coach of the team. He banned the use of cell phones in dressing rooms and although he was media-savvy, he disappointed journalists who got their kicks by managing to get the playing XI on match eve. When they expressed their displeasure, saying other managers acceded to their request, Patil reminded them that he is different.
Patil must not be afraid of ringing in changes and surprising senior players with a tap on the shoulder.
After all, non-selection is as critical as selection.
He was sacked as coach in 1996 after only six months due to differences with some players, but he didn’t hit out like he did with the Symonds Super Tusker bat in his playing days. In fact, one of his first reactions went something like this, “I wish Madan Lal (his successor) the very best.”
I remember the late Raj Singh Dungarpur (Indian team’s manager on the 1982 and 1986 tours of England) telling me how Patil reacted when it was announced in a team meeting on the eve of the 1982 Lord's Test that he was dropped from the team: “Patlya (Patil’s nickname) got up and hugged Ghulam Parkar, who had replaced him. He was the complete team man.”
Patil’s greatest strength as a former player is spotting and encouraging talent. His friend Dr Pratap Raut, who played with him in the same Shivaji Park Youngsters club, cannot forget a day in the early 1990s when Patil told him that he was convinced two players will don India colours — VVS Laxman and Vikram Rathour, who is now Patil’s colleague in the selection committee.
When he and I worked on a book together, he would often bring up Gautam Gambhir’s name as a good prospect, capable of being successful like Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly in India’s famed bating order. And when India’s cricketing fraternity was super impressed with wicketkeeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik, he stressed the point that Mahendra Singh Dhoni could be a major force too. He was right.
The BCCI has copped some criticism for sacking Mohinder Amarnath as selector only after a year. At the same time, it is not such a bad thing to have a Board chief pick his men to drive Indian cricket forward. Amidst criticism, N Srinivasan should also be given some credit for breaking tradition in not going by recommendation from the zones.
Patil will now have to do justice to the ‘chosen one’ tag.
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor. In 2006, he teamed up with Sandeep Patil to compile a book on cricket anecdotes.