Indian cricket September 27, 2008

Meet the selectors

Cricinfo looks at what India's new panel of selectors brings to the table

Eleven days before the four-Test series against Australia, India have a brand new selection committee which features no one from the previous group. The new committee will have to hit the ground running, because facing them is the biggest series and the biggest question in Indian cricket today: whether to phase out the seniors or not, and if yes, how to go about it.

Kris Srikkanth's immediate goal is to choose a winning team for the Australia series © Cricinfo Ltd

The challenges India's first paid selection committee face are as varied as its constituents. It is a wide palette of interesting former players: a dashing but reckless batsman, another who outgrew his technical limitations with extraordinary courage, a spinner who faded away as quickly as he came up on the scene, and two left-field choices.

Kris Srikkanth, the adventurous batsman from the 1980s, representing the South Zone, heads the committee. Reuniting with him will be a former national selector, North Zone's Yashpal Sharma, to form a different kind of team: 25 years ago they were together when India won the World Cup in England. Srikkanth played four Tests and 15 ODIs with another member of the committee, Narendra Hirwani, who makes his way from the Central Zone.

The three will assume one of the most crucial jobs in Indian cricket, in association with two surprise members - Surendra Bhave from West Zone and Raja Venkatraman from East Zone. None of the two has played for India. What this committee has going for them is that they will have the job for the next four years if they are good at it.

Cricinfo looks at what the team that will select the teams brings to the table.

Kris Srikkanth
Srikkanth, the cavalier opening batsman who was stripped of the captaincy in 1989 after he demanded that players' wages be increased, has been a successful India A and Under-19 coach. He was tipped to become the India coach in 1999, but Kapil Dev pipped him to the post. He was soon offered the selector's post, but refused. He was then appointed chief of India's pitches committee.

Later Srikkanth - "Cheeka" to his admirers - joined the media and has continued to air his views with his characteristic humour. He did court controversy during the 2003 World Cup when he said on air that "Ganguly should bat at No. 14", and Ganguly refused to accept his apology when Srikkanth called to patch up. After being made the chairman of selectors, Srikkanth has said that his immediate goal would be to choose a winning team for the Australia series, and also to concentrate on building a team that can win the 2011 World Cup.

Yashpal Sharma
Yashpal is the only man in the committee to have been a national selector before. His previous stint, though, is not one that he will be looking at for motivation. It coincided with the most acrimonious time in Indian cricket in the last decade, and ended with everybody bad-mouthing everybody.

Yashpal, who was a gritty middle-order batsman in the 80s and played two World Cups, took umbrage to what he felt was unfair treatment meted out to Ganguly and a few other players. He slammed Greg Chappell, then India's coach, for "targeting Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh". He also targeted Kiran More, the former chairman of selectors, for "not supporting him and taking sides when convenient".

Yashpal Sharma: back, and not looking at the past © PA Photos

Yashpal supported Ganguly through the infamous Chappell-Ganguly saga, but denied he had any hidden agenda. "Would I not have pushed for Sourav's inclusion in the one-day team too? Or, would I not have proposed that he be retained as captain for the Test team? I believe that Sourav has the track record and the performance to deserve a place in the Test side. I was among those who backed the idea of letting Rahul Dravid become Test captain as well," Yashpal said then.

Two years on, he can take comfort from the fact that all the choices he wanted to make then have been vindicated. Apart from Ganguly, who was recently kept out of the Rest of India team, the other three are key members of the Indian team now. When contacted now, though, he remained tight-lipped about his course of action and only said he was grateful for the opportunity and trust shown in him by the BCCI.

Raja Venkatraman
Some of the seniors in the Indian team might have found some backing in the form of Venkatraman, who represents East Zone in the committee. "There has to be proper succession planning; while the seniors have to make way for the youngsters, you cannot hurry the process," Venkatraman said. "The youngsters have to fit in the shoes of great players like Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, and the seniors.

"There cannot be too many changes as you need a settled team. I will obviously have to discuss with my colleagues - I know Srikkanth well - and am sure all of us will do our best to select the best possible team."

Venkatraman has had two stints as a junior selector for Bengal. He was also a member of the BCCI media committee in 2005, and had then gone on record with his ire against the omission of Ganguly, saying: "The selectors have committed blasphemy; no one can justify what they have done." He was also part of the BCCI museum committee in 2007-08.

An attacking left-hand middle-order batsman who played 41 first-class games for Bengal, Venkatraman rates the Ranji Trophy triumph in 1989-90 as his most memorable moment. A native of Palakkad in Kerala, born in Mumbai and brought up in Calcutta, he has been attached to the Prasoon Mukherjee camp in Cricket Association of Bengal, which is close to Sharad Pawar.

Surendra Bhave
Bhave, a prolific former opener for Maharashtra, has prior experience of being with many of the current Indian team. He was India's manager on last year's tour to Bangladesh, when he got on well with the team. "For a selector it is essential to know their [players'] mindset, and I had a little peek during that stint," Bhave said. "The fact they know me and that they thought this guy was decent will help me and the selection panel."

After his retirement from first-class cricket in 2001, Bhave has stayed in touch with the game as a coach and selector for Maharashtra and a member of India's junior selection committee. But he was taken by complete surprise when his name started came up as a candidate for the national selection committee.

Surendra Bhave has stayed in touch with the game, as a coach and also as a selector for Maharashtra © Cricinfo Ltd.

Bhave believes the selectors can play a role as important as the coach and support staff. "I believe half the job is of the coach's, but as selectors we can try to choose the right mix," Bhave said. "My real vision is to make our team more consistent. Sometimes we come with an outstanding performance, and then like recently during the Test series in Sri Lanka, we falter. If you look at the graph of results there've been quite a few peaks and troughs."

An ideal selection, according to Bhave, is one that ensures a winning team and also has vision for the future. "In addition progressive planning is required, in terms of bringing in the youngsters at the right time and allowing them to prosper."

The challenge for this committee, whenever they bring about changes in the team, would be for the committee to be one voice. "Communication is a big thing for all five us, and I'm confident Kris Srikkanth is a very good leader of men and he will have a plan for all of us to work on."

Bhave doesn't think there is any harm in questioning the merits of the previous norm of selecting teams on match-by-match basis for home Test series, as opposed to picking one team for the whole series.

Narendra Hirwani
Hirwani's retirement from competitive cricket was the most recent out of the members of the committee. He quit first-class cricket in 2006 after 23 years in the game. He coached at the grassroots level for the last two years, working and travelling with city and club teams. He has been Air India's coach, and has also worked with the World Cricket Academy.

When he came to know of his appointment as a selector, Hirwani was in Chandigarh, coaching in the JP Attray one-day tournament. The reward for him has come fast, just two years after his retirement, unlike what he thought happened when he was playing. He had been vocal at times with his criticism of the selections, and ironically he will now sit at the other end of the table shortly after having called it a day.

By Nagraj Gollapudi, Sidharth Monga and Sriram Veera