Cut the selectors some slack!
MSK Prasad-led panel should be judged by their work and not be ridiculed for their lack of international cricket experience
It's been nearly five months since Yuvraj Singh announced his retirement from international cricket, but he's still clearing the pickets with disdain as it were. The hurt of not being in the national selectors' scheme of things seems far from healed and the southpaw has not missed many chances to have a go at the MSK Prasad-led selection committee.
Presumably, Yuvraj believed he deserved more than the three hits he got (v West Indies) after the 2017 Champions Trophy, in which he earned the man-of-the-match award for his 53 off 32 balls in the first game against Pakistan at Edgbaston.
More recently, he pointed to the selectors bungling with the No.4 spot for the World Cup and then of course came the 'ask-your-great-selectors' comment made in response to a journalist's question about MS Dhoni's break from the game. All this seems symbolic of a player who feels hard done by.
Prasad and his colleagues have copped some low blows. The irony of it all is palpable because rarely has a selection committee taken so much flak despite the Indian team's performance being good - if I can call it so.
Sure, the semi-final loss at the World Cup was a big blow, but Virat Kohli's team beat all their opponents in the tournament, save eventual finalists England and New Zealand. And three of the five teams they beat on the bounce were former World Cup champions Pakistan, Australia and West Indies. The unprecedented Border-Gavaskar Trophy triumph in Australia earlier this year shouldn't be discounted which came after a creditable 1-2 result in South Africa in 2018. The failure to win ICC events is glaring, yet it is not enough reason to ridicule the selectors.
Pardon the cliché but a selector's job is indeed a thankless one, and former England pace ace and chief selector Alec Bedser was spot on when he wrote in Cricket Choice. "I suppose the art of selecting teams may be compared to umpiring — the best make the fewest mistakes. A selector needs judgment and experience and that thing called luck," said Bedser. He mentioned experience and it is this aspect which has become a sore point for cricket pundits. In his outrageous comments on the selectors recently, Farokh Engineer played down the wrong line by saying he saw some selectors serving tea to Kohli's actress wife Anushka during the World Cup in England. He was actually taking aim at how insignificant they were.
Two in the current selection panel - Gagan Khoda and Jatin Paranjape - have not played Test cricket. Two - Sarandeep Singh and Devang Gandhi - have figured in seven Tests put together, while Prasad played only six Tests, all of them in the 1999-2000 season. On paper, the international inexperience shows up but that is no reason to believe they cannot do a good selectorial job. Cricket is a strange game. What you do in one phase of your career doesn't disallow you from being successful in another sphere, so let's cut the selectors some slack.
Clive Lloyd led a pack of fast bowlers which did not help in maintaining acceptable over-rates. Yet, he became a match referee just like England batsman Chris Broad, who smashed down the stumps after being bowled by Steve Waugh in the 1988 Bicentennial Test at Sydney. A few months prior to that ugly incident, Broad headed back to the pavilion in a Test against Pakistan at Lahore only after opening partner Graham Gooch got him to leave.
What the India selectors lack in experience is made up by the amount of work and tasks they perform while travelling all over the country to watch domestic cricket. That requires energetic legs apart from cricketing nous, as new BCCI chief Sourav Ganguly will appreciate. Ganguly may well feel that it is time to have a well-rounded international-experienced selection committee. To form that sort of panel won't be easy since the age-old zonal system is still adhered to when it comes to picking selectors.
Having selectors who wore the India cap for only a few games is not as strange as some cases I discovered while speaking to a few former players and revisiting historic occurrences. No disrespect to their first-class exploits and ability to judge talent, but some committees have had selectors with only domestic experience. None from the current panel belong to the only-domestic category.
M Dutta Ray figured in the national selection committee regularly from the 1951-52 season till 1971-72 without having any cricketing background. Nari Contractor, who led India from 1960 to 1962, told me yesterday that Ray used to come up with ridiculous suggestions at selection meetings. "I won't name any particular player, but Dutta Ray used to say things like, 'let's drop this player... he has been playing for too long.' Of course, how the player was performing did not matter to him and I could just sit there and smile because I didn't have a vote," remarked Contractor.
Vijay Merchant was astute but even he is believed to have strong likes and dislikes as chief selector. While interviewing the late Dilip Sardesai long after he quit the game, I asked him about the lowest point of his career. Without hesitation, he referred to his dropping for the 1969-70 home series against New Zealand. "Thanks to Vijay Merchant... write it," thundered Sardesai as we sipped coffee at the Bombay Gymkhana.
Sardesai's wife Nandini recalled on Tuesday how Merchant entered the Nehru Stadium dressing room in Pune and congratulated her husband enthusiastically for his knock of 80 against the touring Australians in 1969. A few days later, Sardesai failed in both innings of the Bombay Test against the same opponents and he was promptly dropped for the series. It was the same Merchant that tagged Sardesai as the Renaissance Man of Indian cricket after the Mumbai batsman scored heavily in India's historic 1971 win in the West Indies.
Selectors and players will never enjoy smooth relationships. It just goes with ebb and flow of the game. And who is to say Yuvraj won't have more to say.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance.
He tweets @ClaytonMurzello
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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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