August 16, 2012

India's selectors pick populism over vision

The final selections by Srikkanth's committee have sent all the wrong signals to the players and fans

After India's 0-8 rout in England and Australia in 2011, the BCCI took some measures to ensure the team doesn't face such a drubbing again. Among these were scheduling two India A tours every year and revamping the domestic structure to make it more competitive, with the aim to produce players who will do well in all conditions. These efforts may not form the complete blueprint for success, but we must laud the BCCI for taking the first few steps in the right direction.

But while the board has showed it intends to bring change, the national selectors have simply delayed the process of repair India need if they are to be successful against all teams in all conditions.

The beginning of a new season was an opportune moment for the selectors to show their vision and intent. It was also their last selection (four of the five selectors will finish their terms in September), so the moment could not have been more appropriate to perhaps undo the errors of the past. Instead, they chose to bury their heads in the sand.

Where they could have taken a few radical, if possibly unpopular, decisions, they preferred to play it safe. Instead of showing vision by backing youngsters for the India A tour, they chose to please everyone by picking a completely different squad from the one for the A tour of West Indies a couple of months ago. This shows not only a dangerous incoherence in thought process, it also raises questions about the selectors' credibility.

While Yuvraj Singh's comeback for the World Twenty20 grabbed the headlines, it was the other, unemotional, selections that revealed the selectors' lack of vision. Sidharth Monga covered several of these in his column last week. Decisions like Ishant Sharma's inclusion for the New Zealand Tests without him having played a single competitive match after undergoing ankle surgery, Suresh Raina replacing Rohit Sharma in the Test side, and Gautam Gambhir replacing Virat Kohli as vice-captain for the World Twenty20 are jarring enough, but none betrays the lack of clarity as much as Piyush Chawla's return to the Indian team for Tests and the World Twenty20 does, 16 months after playing his last international game, in the 2011 World Cup. In fact, Chawla was a surprise selection for the World Cup as well, and was dropped after taking four wickets in three matches (two of them against Ireland and Netherlands). It isn't often that a member of a World Cup-winning team isn't played again for 16 months. Only a sub-standard performance can lead to such a long absence, and it would then be fair to assume that Chawla must have forced his way back with a series of sterling performances. Not really.

Rahul Sharma, who replaced Chawla in the squad after the World Cup, did very well in the 2011 IPL, and was picked for India on the basis of his performance in the league, despite poor first-class figures - 18 wickets in ten matches till then. But then selection is not always about numbers, or we'd have statisticians for selectors. Every selection committee has the right to look beyond statistics and go by instinct for potential and talent.

It isn't often that a member of a World Cup-winning team isn't played again for 16 months. Only a sub-standard performance can lead to such a long absence, and it would then be fair to assume that Chawla must have forced his way back with a series of sterling performances. Not really

There are only two ways to justify any selection: by merit, backed by seriously good numbers, or by the selectors' instinct for considering potential over performance. Rahul's selection fell into the second category. But while he was picked with the long-term idea of playing Tests, he was dropped after only ten months, not having been given an opportunity in the longer format. So was his being picked an error in judgment, or was dropping him without giving him a chance a mistake? Chawla has now reclaimed his place without producing any earth-shattering numbers - 27 wickets at 40.62 from nine first-class matches. Yes, there were only eight spinners in the top 30 wicket-takers last season, and the best took 28 wickets in eight matches, but then again, if Chawla was going to be picked for the Test series against New Zealand, why wasn't he picked for the A tour to West Indies?

National selections rarely demand out-of-the-box thinking because most players select themselves. You need to simply pick the best team possible to win the assignment, which means there isn't much scope for working towards a vision. Not so with an A squad, where the selectors have opportunities to plan for the future, and gives us a peek into their thought process. If selected fairly, an A squad is a great indicator of the country's bench strength.

Being consistent in selections for the national team is the default mode, but consistency in A team selections can only be achieved through a carefully crafted design. A team is as good as its bench strength, and the bench can only be as strong as it is allowed to be.

In July 2011, Srikkanth Anirudha was picked in a three-day squad for the Emerging Players tournament, even though he wasn't a regular in Tamil Nadu's Ranji team. It goes without saying that one deserving candidate was pushed further back in the queue for no fault of his own.

Only six players from the India A tour to the West Indies have survived for the A tour to New Zealand in September-October. Robin Bist, the highest run scorer in the 2011-12 first-class season, Wriddhiman Saha, who is being groomed take over the gloves from MS Dhoni in Tests, and Parwinder Awana, considered one of the most promising young fast bowlers in the country, have all failed to make it. Saha was the team's vice-captain, while Bist and Awana got only one match each on the tour. What did Saha do wrong? Was one opportunity enough to judge that Bist and Awana aren't good enough? Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund both failed to score runs in the West Indies, but Mukund has now been named captain for the New Zealand tour, while Dhawan has been dropped. RP Singh was picked for the West Indies but couldn't make it because he wasn't fit. Now Jaydev Unadkat has been preferred over a fit RP.

And what about Praveen Kumar? If he wasn't considered good enough for the World Twenty20, shouldn't he have been a part of the India A set-up? As a rule, A squads consist of promising players from the first-class circuit who have a realistic chance of graduating to the next level and those who have fallen off the national radar and are trying to make it back. Picking completely different teams every time defeats the purpose of organising such tours.

India are about to begin a very long home season, and this selection could have been used to make a statement of intent. Unfortunately, the out-going selection committee didn't see it as an opportunity; maybe they looked at it as a liability.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mayank on August 19, 2012, 9:16 GMT

    Not said a word about Tendulkar continuing in the team! Strange.

  • Abhishek on August 18, 2012, 8:53 GMT

    Hi Akash, I agree with you. I always wished selectors were more set of people.

  • Dummy4 on August 18, 2012, 3:26 GMT

    What a joke selectors have made, picking Piyush Chawla, ironically, the person who called selectors Bunch of Jokers are also part of this squad now...what to do...

  • Pradep on August 17, 2012, 23:42 GMT

    This is a god article about selection policy. But I also think there should be an examination of captain Dhini's determination to promote Chennai Super King players at the expense all other players. His persistence with Jadeja, Ashwin at the expense of Ojha is not well documented. Then he tries so hard to keep Manoj Tiwary out of the team - I thought someone like Akash Chopra or Harsh Bhogle would be able to notice that.

  • mark on August 17, 2012, 17:00 GMT

    i think the movements made by selecctors for NZ series is ok and nothing much to worry..NZ is no great threat to current Ind team and can easily win this series too... so guys dont bother too need to see storm in the tea cup!!

  • Rtvn on August 17, 2012, 15:39 GMT

    why are some of the people here ranting that just because aakash chopra and sanjay manjrekar didn't contribute much with the bat to the indian team, they shouldn't be making these analyses? at least they have a good knowledge about cricket - there's no hypocrisy in that

  • hari on August 17, 2012, 13:14 GMT

    Akash has been giving good analysis after selections and matches. I think you are right in commenting that the selections are clueless and inconsistant. I feel the selectors do not have a definite plan of action. If I were in the selection panel, I will first draw a list of 30 probables. I will first select the the top 15 who would represent the country at International level. Then I will look at the rest 15 and see if anyone needs to be replaced to suit a particular format. Like, I would pick a player like Rayudu for T20s and ODIs and not probably for 4 day games or tests. Then I would pick players who are outside the 30 list who have performed exceptionally well in domestic tournaments, IPL, english county, etc. and see if they fit into my selections. I will then have a flow chart of their performances and why they failed, if they did so. The flow chart will be a transparent document for players to see for themselves where they stand and their chances of further selection.

  • Kall on August 17, 2012, 10:58 GMT

    You forgot a very important question, Chopra. Why has Harbhajan Singh been picked?

  • Dummy4 on August 17, 2012, 9:33 GMT

    its nt that kind of selection we thought piyush was a surprise pick and praveen kumar missing out is a huge upset to team india if yuvi performs srikanth is safe and if he dosent then its going to be d- day for him!

  • Dummy4 on August 17, 2012, 8:34 GMT

    Many questions comes up from the current selection of national team and A team. Can we file an application for RTI for selectors?

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