‘Delhi like transit lounge, board flight or go home’ - Atul Wassan
As chairman of the Delhi selection committee in the 2017-18 season, former India pacer Atul Wassan was credited with picking a team that reached the Ranji Trophy final. The panel was expected to be rewarded and retained. However, the entire committee was changed and the side finished at the bottom of their pool in 2018-19, prompting the Delhi cricket association (DDCA) management to bring back Wassan for the forthcoming season. In a chat, he talks about his plans and points the direction in which Delhi players must progress.
Delhi were Ranji runners-up in 2017-18, but finished last in their pool last season.
We were all on board the year before last and had conviction. We got 3-4 players from outside the system and luckily for us, they all performed. Selection is an imperfect science. But if you back players, they are more likely to perform. We removed some of the players who were carrying on year after year, not going forward to the Indian team and not going out—just sustaining themselves with the team not winning. We wanted to shake things up and did. (Unmukt Chand, Milind Kumar, Parvinder Awana and Sumit Narwal had to sit out). We got the results. Last year, different people came in and they had a different viewpoint. Some who were discarded were brought back, so new players lost confidence. There were injuries too. Nitish Rana and Navdeep Saini went for India A duty. Some like Himmat Singh didn’t perform. A lot of factors combined for Delhi not performing to the optimal.
Too many opening combinations were tried last year.
The team’s core is the most important. If you keep breaking it, the boys will struggle to gel. There was an odd injury too (batsman Kunal Chandela). I cannot say everything will be okay now. Whatever pool of players we have, we will try and do we did earlier. Hope players perform. Manjot Kalra (hit 101* in the 2018 U-19 World Cup win, but wasn’t picked for Delhi last season) is one of the most exciting players coming through. We don’t have much time, but will get an idea from the one-dayers.
Is captaincy an issue?
There are many options for captaincy (Dhruv Shorey has been named captain for the Vijay Hazare Trophy). If Ishant Sharma is available, it is a lottery. He is a wonderful captain. There are other contenders, but some could go for India A, etc., like Nitish Rana. Ideally, we’ll want a performer to captain the entire season. But due to such a robust season for India A, it may not be possible. If Ishant and Navdeep Saini are available to play, then we are strong contenders.
Last year, chief selector Amit Bhandari was beaten up over a selection row?
It was a wake-up call. Pulls and pressures are always there. How you can avoid it is by ensuring that selections, camps don’t happen in far-off places and there is security. DDCA has taken cognisance of it. It is their job to ensure security. As far as I am concerned, I fear no one, I am sure nobody can take me on.
In the last 10 years, Delhi hasn’t succeeded consistently?
I know we have under-achieved in the last 10 years. We’ll win a one-off tournament here and there, but the consistency which used to be there earlier, isn’t there anymore. Earlier, what would happen is that one-odd player would play for India but the rest would be available. There were no A tours, or they were rare. Now, there is so much cricket you often don’t get the cream. Many teams don’t have stars but have many good first-class players. Like Vidarbha (the 2017-18 and 2018-19 Ranji champions), there are some good players, but they are not India contenders. So they keep getting the entire team. With Mumbai and Delhi there is always a problem, 5-6 players keep going here and there every season. Also, we have lacked long-term preparation and planning. It is not like you come and start playing a week before. We need to have a developmental plan, an off-season plan. Invest for 2-3 years, then results will start coming.
You have a young team. What do you tell them?
I am very blunt. I always tell them you have won a lottery. Playing for Delhi is like being in the transit lounge of an airport. You’ve got the boarding card. Now you got to get on the flight within a certain time (play higher grade cricket) or else you go home. You can’t lounge around. You can’t like hang around for 4-5 years, making 400-500 runs, and the team also doesn’t win, and then expect that with mediocre performances, you cement your place. We were told the same thing when we played for Delhi. You need to perform in 8-10 matches and cement a place, else give others a chance. We have a good bank in U-19 and they have to push. Unless they do, and ensure the guys in front aren’t complacent, how will we move ahead?
From outside, did you notice any lack of motivation?
Why would there be? You’re playing for Delhi. If you do well, you’ll get selected for the India team. You are getting plenty of money. You are getting a comfortable lifestyle, the physio is there, trainer is there, you are staying in a five-star hotel. There are so many India A team tours happening. Emerging nations tournaments are taking place. These players are totally pampered. If, in spite of this, you still need motivation, shame on you.