Blast from the past

On his blog, Hindustan Times sports editor Anand Vasu says that by a singular stroke of good fortune, chairman of the national selectors Krish Srikkanth is under no compulsion to explain his actions to the media.

That line made me think — of a series of selection related issues dating back to 1997, in which the central figures were Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammad Azharuddin and then chairman of selectors Ramakant Desai. The links below serve as a capsule  history of that period:

The problem began in July 1997, when then captain Sachin Tendulkar participated in, and later stormed out of, a selection committee meeting. Outlook has the story. [From the same era, another instance].

Fast forward to January 5. 1998: at a selection committee meeting, Sachin Tendulkar was sacked, and Mohammad Azharuddin reinstated, as national captain. This is the smoke and mirrors story of how it was done.

The selection committee then announced its team for the ‘Bangladesh Silver Jubilee Independence Cup’ [you will remember that this was the period in Indian cricket when the main purpose of the BCCI/Jagmohan Dalmiya was to organize various jamborees in Bangladesh; the fact that Dalmiya’s construction firm at that point in time was doing major business in that country was merely one of those bizarre coincidences. Or was it?]. The practice at the time was for the chairman of the selection committee and the secretary of the BCCI to announce the team list, and then take questions from the media.

That meeting took place at the CCI, in Mumbai. At the time, I had recorded the one memory that, even today, remains vivid:

I came away with one abiding memory — of Desai, unable to answer questions relating to the omission of Rahul Dravid, pounding the table with his fists, the foam of spittle that was the visible symptom of his heart ailment flecking the corners of his mouth.

Four months later, Desai died. Age, and a heart ailment, were the stated reasons; this however was the real cause.

The story has a sequel: two weeks after that January 2008 selection meeting, the BCCI put out a two-line memo, sent to all media offices: ‘It has been decided that in future, the secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India will read out the team list at the completion of each meeting of the selection committee. No questions will be entertained from the media.’


Jobs for the boys?

The Kerala Cricket Association must have partied hard last night, after their gamble paid off with the inclusion of Sreesanth in the test squad to play Sri Lanka.

Whether he deserves a place in the squad on form is a question I’ll leave well alone — I haven’t seen his most recent outings; the selectors, on the other hand, presumably have. I’m not sure, though, that inclusion in the national team is the right signal to send a player who, given a final warning by the board less than a month ago for serial bad behavior, flipped everyone the finger by blowing away the practice session of the state team of which he is captain. Hopefully, the least the BCCI and the team management will now do is tell the young man that another transgression is his last — encouraging bad behavior merely tempts the offender to push the envelope even further.

On another note, the K Srikkanth-led selection committee is proving no better nor worse than its predecessors. Team selection is normally an exercise in picking the obvious players, and then bargaining for the remaining slots. It is much harder to do in a domestic series, because there are only 14 slots to fill, of which at least 12 *have* to command their place on merit, leaving slots for one reserve bowler and one reserve batsman for the selectors to play games with.

It took Srikkanth and his cohorts to find the perfect solution — increase the team strength to 16, simple; and in doing that, ignore the fact that historically 14 players are picked for home series because in the event of injury, it is easy enough to call up replacements.

So the committee first picked the obvious names. With two additional ‘berths’ created in a fashion that reflects the operations of our railway touts, ‘Cheeka’ managed to fill those spaces with two statemates in M Vijay and Badrinath. The curious aspect is that the announcement specified that Vijay would be the reserve batsman — which makes Badrinath the afterthought.

And that is curious in itself because when the BCCI announced its latest round of central contracts, Badri was one of the biggest gainers, moving two slots up from Category D to B, and seeing his annual guaranteed earnings go up from Rs 15 lakh to Rs 40 lakh.

Leave the question of whether Badri deserves a place in the playing eleven aside for the moment — he is probably playing to his best form just now. The fact remains that neither he, nor his fellow TN player, will ever make it to the starting eleven absent a spate of Australia-like injuries.

If you assume that selection committees have a say in who gets contracts and promotions, the piquant situation here is that a player found worthy of being promoted is an afterthought even in the minds of the same selection committee. And that player — players — will tag along with the team, sitting on the bench sharing gossip, when they would be considerably better off emphasizing their claims in the Ranji Trophy season now on.

The problem with that is, if Cheeka and company don’t pick Badri, they cannot make the case for his continuing to get a central contract. And if Vijay is not picked as the first choice batting replacement, they can’t make a case for him to be included when the next round of contracts is given out [more on that next round in a bit].

Actually, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. In 2007, when the question of refining the contract system was being discussed, there was some talk that the board would incorporate performance clauses, and that promotions and relegations would be based on what the contracted players actually did in national colors — how often they were picked, how they performed, etc.

Came the day for the announcement of contracts, though, and there was no change in the fine print. BCCI chief administrative officer Ratnakar Shetty, when asked about the omission, told the media simply that “there has been no change”. The media did ask why; Shetty said that was the decision arrived at by the executive committee — as if that automatically precludes further questioning.

Oh and incidentally? The contracts were issued in October 2008. They ended September 30, 2009. The board has thus far not had the time to renew/review the contracts. Hence the imperative for the selectors to pick additional players and push into the ranks those they would like to see retain existing contracts or get fresh ones.

Nothing, clearly, changes in the Wonderland that is Indian cricket.

PS: Busy day. Mercifully, there is a cyclone warning in effect in Bombay and from yesterday on, the weather has been wet and blustery. The umpires will likely go through the routine “pitch inspections” and delay a decision until they are sure it is not even possible to fit in a 20 overs a side game today — but the ground reality is, no play will happen, so India won’t have to “play for pride” today.

Busy day personally, so off this for the rest of the day.