Can Ajit Agarkar crack the selection code? | Crickit
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Can Ajit Agarkar crack the selection code?

Jul 06, 2023 07:42 PM IST

As the new chairman of selectors, former India cricketer Ajit Agarkar will have to take some tough calls.

The past decade has been a peaceful ride for the selectors. A settled middle-order, ace spinners and a terrific fast bowling line-up meant that most of the players picked themselves.

Ajit Agarkar's first task is to pick India's T20I squad for the five-match series against West Indies.(BCCI ) PREMIUM
Ajit Agarkar's first task is to pick India's T20I squad for the five-match series against West Indies.(BCCI )

But things will get challenging now though. The batting stalwarts are ageing, the pace battery needs to be recharged and the spin department needs back-ups. It is in this crucial period of transition in the Indian team that Ajit Agarkar has taken over as the chairman of selectors.

There are selectors who prefer smooth sailing, who are happy to go with the flow, and don’t like causing a flutter with drastic calls. But given how Agarkar functioned as the Mumbai Cricket Association’s (MCA) chief selector, he is not one of them.

He makes his presence felt and will rock the boat with tough calls made with the right intent. But, ultimately the selectors need the backing of the administrators and Agarkar didn’t get that at the MCA. As a result, his tenure was cut short to 2017-2019 when he decided to step down after a campaign was launched by a group of MCA members against the selection committee against their style of functioning.

During the time he was the chairman of the Mumbai selection committee, Agarkar’s team took some tough calls, even dropping experienced players like Abhishek Nayar (in 2017-18), Suryakumar Yadav (2018-19) and Dhawal Kulkarni (2018-19) for some games. The picking and choosing of matches was not tolerated. Even star players were made to undergo fitness tests if they asked for a break and then made themselves available for selection.

Some influential clubs called for a special general meeting (SGM) and moved a resolution to remove the Agarkar-led selectors, accusing them of not watching local matches. Sensing there was no support in the MCA, Agarkar and his team then resigned.

Former India left-arm spinner Nilesh Kulkarni who worked with Agarkar in the Mumbai selection committee and is a former teammate, says: “Whatever time I have spent with Ajit in the selection committee and as a teammate also, one thing is for sure he will always call a spade a spade, and that is always going to be a good thing for Indian cricket as well.”

“This is going to be a transitional phase also in the national team in which he will have a big role to play. It is important to have the right people and knowing Ajit for a long time now, the CAC and BCCI have found the right person to be in that decision-making role. He comes with the rich experience of playing at the highest level for a long time, which is extremely important because you know what it takes to be there for a long time.” said Kulkarni.

Having a good understanding with the national team coach and captain is equally important for the smooth functioning of the selection committee. For Agarkar it should help to settle in his role because he already enjoys a decent rapport with both coach Rahul Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma. He has played with both, being Dravid's teammate on the India side and sharing the Mumbai dressing room with Rohit.

He takes over at a crucial juncture where the think-tank has to plan for the future. The players for the ODI World Cup team have been more or less identified but his committee has to draw a roadmap for the 2024 T20 World Cup and the 2025 World Test Championship cycle. The most tricky call is to decide on the future of the veterans in the side. Rohit, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and R Ashwin will be between 36 to 38 by the time the next WTC final is played.

It was Agarkar who had put his foot down to blood Yashasvi Jaiswal in the Mumbai team in 2019, says Kulkarni. But it is about quality over form for Agarkar, so if a seasoned player is out of form, he will give the player a fair chance to come back.

“He is a process-oriented person, always firm on certain things. If he thinks that he needs to back the talent or ability, and give a longer rope to a player, he will not shy away from making sure these are the things we need to follow as a protocol. Because many times we go through a dip in form but the talent is always there. He believes that you give a fair chance to come back, because talent is always a talent.

“That is how he put his foot down to introduce Yashasvi. He made it a point that Yashasvi makes a debut when we were there. We were not sure whether we will be there next season so as the chairman he said we should encourage him and ensure he makes his debut for Mumbai,” reveals Kulkarni.

Not averse to taking tough selection calls, even if it was against the senior players, the advantage with Agarkar is that he doesn't shy away from communicating the reasons with the player.

“Of course, there were decisions, (but) one thing which is very important is he communicates with everyone. Even if it is a tough decision, he makes it a point to pick up the phone and talk to the players. That is his strength and that’s the way he operates," says the former left-arm spinner, adding, “in Mumbai’s selection committee he did that, I don’t want to name the players but he did that. He was firm in decision-making which was important for the development of the Mumbai team. Now that he is at the helm nationally, obviously he will protect the interest of the national cricket team.”

Some of the decisions were unpopular with the clubs but Agarkar still went ahead with them at the cost of his job as a selector. “Yes (he dropped some high-profile players), because he has the logic to rationalise the decision with the stats. He will not take a decision in haste. He will always be analytical, and obviously discussing with the concerned authority and the player.”

Agarkar had a tough time at the MCA. If he gets the backing at the BCCI, he can be the effective selector that India needs.

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