By ejecting the selectors, will BCCI find a solution?

Published on Nov 20, 2022 07:22 PM IST

The big elephant in the room for selectors is the presence and power of the ‘superstar culture and team management’

BCCI has sacked the Chetan Sharma-led selection committee after World Cup loss PREMIUM
BCCI has sacked the Chetan Sharma-led selection committee after World Cup loss
ByAmrit Mathur

The BCCI reportedly sacked the senior selection committee for making bad choices which meant India went into the World Cup with a handicap-like a tennis player starting a game at love one and down 0/40 on his serve. For Chairman Chetan Sharma this is season 2 of being hit out of the park, after Miandad’s historic strike in Sharjah years ago.

But, some perspective. Selectors have functional autonomy but not total independence and for important decisions, for instance appointment of the captain, they need to be aligned with what BCCI thinks. Also, selectors pick the squad but the final 11 is decided by the captain and coach. Good selection is only one part of the performance puzzle and the primary responsibility is with players. With selectors axed, is a player purge next?

The selection structure:

The senior selection committee has five members, the senior most ( according to matches played) is Chairman. Members represent the 5 zones of the BCCI though Ranji ( consisting of 38 teams) scrapped the zonal system some years ago, opting instead to club participating teams into 5 groups. The captain is a ‘special invitee’/co-opted member but does not have a vote.

Australia, with 6 teams in the Sheffield Shield has three selectors-2 players( George Bailey and Tony Dodemside) and Andrew McDonald, the Head Coach. England sacked Ed Smith, its selector, and Head Coach Brendon McCullum is the boss now, assisted by a High Performance Director, a Talent Identification Manager and talent scouts in each of the 18 county teams.

Eligibility conditions of becoming a selector

Playing experience is an essential requirement, at India or first-class level. Candidates should have retired for at least 5 years and there is a 60 years age cap. Recent conflict of interest provisions bar selectors from any cricket related activity, hence coaching / media work is not allowed.

Such restrictive conditions shrink the pool of eligible or interested candidates and high-profile players ( with marketable skills) give this a miss. The situation is grimmer at state level where it is difficult to find people to fill selection committee slots, more so because the job pays little.

India’s selection committee is frequently described as ‘lightweight’ because it doesn’t have enough international playing experience. This charge is a byproduct of the toxic ‘kitna khela hai’ trend where wisdom and knowledge is directly linked to number of matches played.

Is the system good?

There is consensus that BCCI’s selection structure is fit for purpose because India has the almost 1000 first class players. The 5 selectors watch cricket with the Chairman allocating games- the same way the Chief Justice allots cases to different benches/ judges in the court.

Till a few years back selectors didn’t watch IPL games but that has changed. National selectors are supported by a data analysis team, gone are the days they went into a meeting carrying printouts of Cticinfo stats. They engage actively with state team coaches and with the NCA to build bench strength and track players to monitor their fitness and performance.

Missing, however, is the system of officially appointed ‘spotters/ scouts’ to assist the selectors in discovering talent. The BCCI had a Dilip Vengsarkar inspired TRDO network (Talent Research and Development Officer) but this was abandoned. Currently, the BCCI match refereees are tasked to look out for fresh talent and alert the selectors while filing their post game reports.

Difficulties of the job

Selection is a thankless job, and selectors are like wicket keepers who get noticed only when things go wrong. Mainly, the challenge they face are because of volume - too many matches/ formats/ players.

# It isn’t easy to decide when to pick (is Umran Malik ready?) or when to drop (Rahane no longer an option?)

# What are the chief criteria for selection: promise/ potential or pure performance?

# How to manage workload (Rohit), injuries (Bumrah /Jadeja/ KL Rahul), mental fatigue( Virat)?

# Should IPL performance merit India selection ( Venkatesh Iyer, Varun Chakravarthy, Devdutt Paddikal)?

# Question of youth versus experience, how long should Ishan Kishan, Sanju Samson, Shreyas Iyer, Rajat Patidar, Rahul Tripathy, Rahul Chahar, Ravi Bishnoi wait ?

# Is domestic performance evidence of quality, specially runs/wickets from the Plate group?

# What is the best method to create a pathway for U 19 players and develop bench strength for the Indian team?

# How do you reconcile to the fact that Virat Kohli last played Ranji in 2014?

There are no easy answers and most selection issues are decided by instinct, gut feel and judgement. In a way, it is trial and error, hit and miss.

The balance sheet

There is a history of inconsistent selection, aptly described by Ajay Jadeja as ‘bahar se bahar’ theory because selectors reject, not select. With every big defeat the fringe players, especially bowlers, get sacked. The big boys survive.

Proper communication/interaction/feedback (selectors to players) is a problem area. Most times announcement of the Indian team is a bland press release without information or explanation about those selected or omitted. Wridhiman Saha flagged this issue, Rayudu made sarcastic comments about 3 D players, Prithvi Shaw wondered ( on social media ) about what more he has to do. Of course, the mother of all controversies was when Virat Kohli was removed as captain.

Another allegation hurled at selectors is they don’t reward domestic performance, with Sarafaraz Khan the latest victim of neglect in a list that has Sheldon Jackson, Paras Dogra and Jalaj Saxena.

But the big elephant in the room for selectors is the presence and power of the ‘superstar culture and team management’. Over the years, from Tiger Pataudi to SMG and Ganguly, successive captains have had enormous say over selection and the way the team works. Not many would dare oppose MSD who alone took key calls and after him it was Virat who decided team culture, focus on fitness and long-term vision of Team India.

With such powerful leaders, the selection committee could be second lead, supporting actors in a multi starrer movie.

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