June 6, 2014

Why the BCCI needs to be more open about selection decisions

The case of Stuart Binny's selection for the England tour shows the importance of the need for transparency

An email from the BCCI at the conclusion of a selection committee meeting on May 28 confirmed Karnataka allrounder Stuart Binny's inclusion for the ODI series in Bangladesh and for the Test tour of England. While his ODI selection was less contentious, eyebrows were raised when he made the cut for the Tests in England. The outrage on social media was instant and entirely predictable. Stuart's father, the former India allrounder Roger Binny, is a national selector and the deduction was as vicious as it was simplistic: dad had done son a favour. Binny senior was accused of nepotism, favouritism and worse.

The truth, though, was the stark opposite. At the selection committee meeting, Roger Binny had, in fact, recused himself when Stuart's name came up for discussion - as is mandatory for national selectors to do in such circumstances. Roger excused himself from the meeting to let his four colleagues deliberate on Stuart's claims. It wasn't the first time he had done so: on the two previous occasions that Stuart had been picked for India, his father had not been a party to the decision.

This vital nugget of information, though, was kept away from India's highly opinionated and easily outraged cricket followers, bringing into question yet again the BCCI's policy of doggedly refusing to communicate details about vital decisions. What possibly prevents a media release from including a couple of lines clarifying the situation?

A simple disclosure saying that Binny senior was not part of the team that picked his son would douse the fire before it spreads. Stuart Binny won his spot because he was found meritorious by a majority of the national selection panel, excluding his father. Yet the son is now scoffed at as the beneficiary of his father's largesse. To make matters worse, the BCCI's policy on media interactions mandates that these men cannot clear the air in public; they simply have to sit back and bear the charges hurled in their direction.

In essence, this episode is yet another glaring instance of how the BCCI's Soviet-style lack of communication is proving counter-productive. Several questions emerged after the squad for the series in England was named. For instance, has the door been shut firmly now on Zaheer Khan's career? What explains Umesh Yadav's exclusion, although as many as six frontline quick bowlers have been picked for the series? Does he have fitness problems the world at large is unaware of? Is the bowler once touted as the next big hope in Indian cricket in some sort of worrying decline? Why was room found for only one spare batsman? Were other openers considered before deciding to return to Gautam Gambhir?

Selecting cricket teams isn't an exact science. These choices are, in fact, best described as considered punts. Selectors are mostly former players, who make a judgement call on players, especially those on the fringe, based on several factors - form, fitness, instinct, ability, gumption, track record, and at times a certain X-factor. Some insight into the reasons for those choices would perhaps make for a more informed discourse. It may still spark debates of equal ferocity, but at least those are likely to be based on some degree of insight.

The unprecedented step of taking 18 players on the tour of England, for instance, needed some explanation. Was it as insurance - to have fresh and fit players to call upon, because five Tests are to be played in the space of six weeks? Is it to ensure there is no repeat of the shambles of India's last tour of England, which was derailed by a spate of injuries? If so, why the reluctance to share those perfectly acceptable reasons with the cricket public?

The BCCI's disinclination to make the national selection panel address press conferences is quite understandable. Over the last few years, India's cricket media hasn't merely exploded, it has mutated to the point where hunting for sensational headlines and pursuing manufactured controversies is unfortunately now the default brief for reporters across the spectrum.

To subject selectors to repeated questions of the nature of "why so and so, why not so and so" is an exercise in futility. However, there is an option available to make the media release more meaningful than merely naming the men who will board the plane. Perhaps the Cricket Australia model isn't a bad one to adopt, where the media release sheds some light on the choices made.

By remaining as insular as it does, the BCCI is allowing intrigues and conspiracy theories to fester. The players and selectors in question are left to face the brunt. Stuart Binny's progress in the game, for instance, must not be scuttled because his father is a national selector. Stuart was a significant contributor in Karnataka's run to the Ranji Trophy title last season, and it can hardly be argued his claim to national elevation is without merit. Perhaps he has been chosen as a batting allrounder for the tour? If India are inclined to play five bowlers in one of the Tests, perhaps the thinking is that Binny may offer the right ingredients - bat in the top seven and bowl ten to 15 overs in the day.

Roger Binny has spent a lifetime in cricket as a player, coach and scout, and he ticks all the boxes for an upright selector. He too is tarred with that wretched phrase "conflict of interest", even when he steers well clear of such conflict. The conspiracy theorists could well argue that if he is allowed to be seen to uphold the principles of propriety, it will reflect poorly on those who haven't done so. Indian cricket's problem lies not just in that it is populated by men of doubtful integrity but that it cruelly allows the upright among them to be tarred with the same brush.

Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo