October 2, 2012

Over to Patil

India's new selectors have to turn their backs on popular expectation and make bold picks

I have known Sandeep Patil well over the years. I have played with him, played under him when he was captain and also when he was India coach in 1996. I have spent a lot of time with him socially too.

I have always felt, while playing with him or watching him operate as a retired cricketer, that he is cut out to be a junior team's coach. He's an excellent motivator for players aged around 17 or 18, and can make a telling difference to a cricketer at a critical stage of his growth. When he was coaching the senior Indian team, I thought he struggled a bit to manage players between the ages of 25 and 35, in whose case the challenges are different.

I don't know how he will fare as India's chairman of selectors. He's very good at spotting talent, but selection is not just about spotting talent, is it? It's about making sure that the talent gets the right training and gets breaks at the appropriate times.

I hope Patil, or any Indian selector for that matter, realises that being popular is futile. A selector has to take hard decisions, which will often upset some people. He must disregard such sentiments and be ruled only by the thought of what is best for Indian cricket.

In India we tend to make compromises on selections, preferring to take safe decisions that will go down well with most people, especially the fans and the media. Many in Indian cricket fear the backlash from media and fans and tend to go with the popular choices rather than the ones that make cricketing sense.

Over the years I have heard selectors talk privately about what they really wanted to do but could not because "it's just not possible in the Indian set-up". This is unfortunate. A brave selector will keep things simple. He will do what is best for Indian cricket and not think about how it will go down with the fans and media. As much as the fans have been responsible for Indian cricket's great growth, they have also unknowingly been responsible for a lot of compromises made in selections.

It is important for Patil to insulate himself from all this if he is to pick the team that will take Indian cricket forward. The selectors will make mistakes, like we all do, but here's hoping those are honest cricketing mistakes.

During the retirements of VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid, it was evident there wasn't great communication between the selectors and the players. I'd like to see that improve. Once you are a selector it should not matter how much cricket you have played. You should have the confidence to sit the legends down, understand what they want, see if their plans coincide with those of Indian cricket, and act accordingly when picking teams.

I think Patil has to talk to senior players like Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan, find out what their long-term plans are, and decide whether they will serve Indian cricket better if relieved of having to play any one format of the game.

No Indian selection escapes the attention of the media, which is why selectors tend to play it safe. But I think there is scope to gamble on talent. One of the reasons you have cricketers as selectors is because they have an eye for talent. They can pick the rough diamonds that don't catch everyone's eye. If a selector is going to only pick the top run-getters and wicket-takers all the time, a computer can do his job. Fast-tracking players should not be abandoned. India need to find their own Ajantha Mendis and Akila Dananjaya, two players picked from outside the system by Sri Lanka.

I hope the new selectors were as hurt by India's 0-8 losses in England and Australia last year as most of us were. If they were, every selection they make will be ruled by one thought: will this pick serve us overseas as well? India's next goal has to be to regain their lost reputation in Tests overseas. The selectors should not be carried away by a very successful run at home.

I believe that in India the chairman of selectors has a more influential role to play than the national coach. The Indian team should ideally be one for all seasons. It's the chief selector's job to build it.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

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