July 11, 2011

Nepotism? Lack of professionalism more like

The selection of K Srikkanth's son for the Emerging Players Tournament tells us plenty about how the BCCI operates, and none of it is pretty

At a conference in New Delhi last year, Chris Hughes, one of the co-founders of Facebook, was describing a world order before the information age, but he could have been talking of the BCCI. He said: "We used to live in a world where we had a pyramid ... the most important people were those on the top, who would just talk to a few different individuals and make a decision where everyone else was affected." The world today, Hughes went on to say, works not merely with pyramids but networks. Indian cricket still operates in pyramid mode. Pity about the network of news media around it.

It has been more than a week since the BCCI released names of the Indian team for the Emerging Players tournament in Australia next month. The EPs squad initially slipped under the radar as it was unveiled along with the Indian team for the much-anticipated tour of England. The sphinx-like announcement of "Virender Sehwag will join the team a fortnight late" invited a round of ruckus and faulty theories. (What's his injury status? Is he not fit? Is he fit? Will he play in the first Test? Or is he sorting out his son's school admission?)

Thirty-six hours after the EP squad was released came an alert about its inclusion of Srikkanth Anirudha, who had had an average first-class season in 2010-2011. Chairman of selectors Krishnamachari Srikkanth, who is Anirudha's father, said the selection had been arrived at with "consensus", and BCCI secretary N Srinivasan told reporters he did not talk about selection matters.

One of the other four selectors said it was Srikkanth who had brought up his son's name. Two of the remaining three defended Anirudha's selection and denied allegations the rest of them had succumbed to paternal pressure. His selection, they said, had been talked about in their meetings, where he was looked at as a potential limited-overs candidate based on his IPL and Champions League Twenty20 performances rather than first-class form.

What was missing from the discussion, it was discovered later, was a basic piece of information: what sort of players was the BCCI hoping would emerge from the EPT? Some selectors at least believed the EPT team should have limited-overs specialists, when in fact in late May it was announced that the tournament format would be changed into a round robin of three-day matches. A Cricket Australia press release states that "the format changes have the tick of approval from the competing nations", naming India, New Zealand and South Africa. An end-July T20 tournament in Malaysia featuring the EPT squads and acting as a pre-cursor to the event in Australia has been cancelled.

None of what transpired is Anirudha's fault at all. He must be a somewhat unhappy and conflicted young man. He knows that whenever his calibre as a cricketer comes under scrutiny, being a son of a famous father (let alone of the chairman of selectors) can be the most miserable of detriments. His selection is not as much a motif of alleged nepotism but more one of a lack of professionalism and transparency. One that shows the game's governors in India believe they are its rulers. All right, its pharaohs.

Srikkanth's position as selection chief required that he make himself available to talk about both squads; as much about Sehwag as about Anirudha's selection for the EPT. He would have been better off answering questions. About whether the EPs were not really an India A team but included those still at the A-minus level. About whether he had left the room or put his phone on silent when his son was being discussed. The selectors defending the selection say Anirudha was picked on merit. Surely their chief can sit in front of cameras and mikes, which he usually does not dislike, and argue their case. Or put out a lucid statement. Instead, with the BCCI quietly slotting Anirudha in (under his TNCA registered name of S Anirudha) and hoping no one would notice, they have invited suspicion and been unfair to their player.

No one minds a selectorial punt based on a mix of instinct and logic. When selectors' hunches work, they are applauded. When a team is announced with skeletal information, like it is a need-to-know basis document, an army of rats is smelt. This is secret-keeping, as if there is something to hide.

No one minds a selectorial punt based on a mix of instinct and logic. When selectors' hunches work, they are applauded. When a team is announced with skeletal information, like it is a need-to-know basis document, an army of rats is smelt. This is secret-keeping, as if there is something to hide

Actually there is: the selectors were picking a team that could have played in last year's EPT. The goof-up regarding the EPT format is particularly rich, as Srikkanth's panel is the first-ever fully paid BCCI selection committee, starting in 2008, with their salaries being upped from Rs 25 lakhs per annum to Rs 40 lakhs in December 2009. The move was intended to make the selectors "accountable".

A selection panel's accountability usually depends on how the team they pick do on the field. The World Cup victory may have made this panel somewhat bulletproof. Yet if players are judged by every series, so must their bulletproof selectors. In this case, even before the first ball was bowled in the tournament they picked a team for, the panel committed more than one error.

At the very least, when discussions opened, no one had done his homework. The EPT was a tournament where long-form performers had to be considered this year, but the format change was not red-flagged. At worst, some knew what the tournament format was about and didn't bother to tell their colleagues when names began to float around over the phone lines.

The selector who alleged that Srikkanth had brought up his son's name certainly didn't mention the change in format either. It was a strong-enough case to free up more than just Anirudha's slot in that team. Other than fire a stink bomb afterwards, that selector wasn't doing his job either.

The pharaohs loved their pyramids because it gave them a notional sense of their grandeur. The BCCI likes its silences for the same reason. We know what pyramids really are, though. Burial chambers.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo