When chairman Dilip Vengsarkar says the selectors have a tough job, you have to agree and sympathise with him. Whatever the selectors do, and whoever they select, there are vocal critics who will always find faults. But Vengsarkar, a confident batsman who favoured the front foot, disregards such criticism --- and scrutiny --- as an occupational hazard. He is troubled instead by the other pains that accompany the job --- the constant travel to obscure centres to watch unexciting domestic cricket, the long absence from family and the complications of skipping office.
Most issues arise because the selectors, till now, are supposedly honorary functionaries who are driven by an inner urge to 'give back' what they received from cricket. Not everyone buys this charming myth because selectors enjoy immense powers and, whatever the public stance, the media visibility does not hurt. And, setting aside other cute justifications, being a national selector is a great thing to have on the CV.
Actually, the BCCI just made the selectors' job more attractive by tossing in an annual salary of Rs 25 lakhs. This sweetener will compensate for all the actual and imaginary hardships; the lollipop is welcome but the core problem of relentless scrutiny and bitter criticism remains. In India, cricket rules, and so does democracy, so everyone and his aunt has an opinion about who should represent the country. Which is why it becomes difficult to explain how the likes of Pankaj Singh and Arjun Yadav get picked.
At present, the selectors are confronted with a ticking bomb: what to do with famed seniors whose skills are clearly diminishing. Is their time up because Mendis made them look so inadequate? If yes, should they, keeping sentiments aside, push the fast-forward button? Or, playing safe, press pause because Mendis mesmerised everyone, not just the veterans?
Answers to such questions are not easy but India has traditionally followed a middle-of-the-road policy of respecting seniority and, also, fast-tracking youngsters into the top league. Which explains the extended careers of Kapil and Sourav, and the huge leap from under-19 to international cricket for Virat Kohli.
Before him, others like Suresh Raina were similarly promoted when they were not ready, nor old enough to vote or order a drink in a bar. Denied the opportunity to go up step by step not many survived this transition. In other countries the situation is different. Australia looks only at performance, not promise. England is conservative in selection. Same with South Africa. Pakistan has no system --- players, completely raw , can be plucked from Jinnah park or overlooked despite outstanding performances.
In a commercial world, and the reality that cricket is even more commercial, the BCCI has done the right thing to pay the selectors. But there is one snag: how will they find selectors with experience, high integrity and sufficient cricket insight who retired ten years ago?