Karnataka's chairman of selectors Sudhakar Rao has ruled out any bias in the decision to pick offspinner Udit Patel for the first-round Ranji Trophy match against Tamil Nadu, which starts on Sunday in Bangalore. Udit is the son of Brijesh Patel, former India batsman and secretary of the Karnataka State Cricket Association.
Rao's explanation comes in the wake of former Karnataka and India captain Rahul Dravid's criticism against the selectors for taking a backward step by picking Udit in the 16-man squad despite unimpressive performances.
"I am extremely disappointed to see Udit back in the side," Dravid said on Friday. "Look, I have nothing against the boy. If he has been picked, he has been picked. It is not his fault. But look at his numbers - he averages 45 in 31 first-class games, his performances this season across formats have been nothing to write home about. In the Vijay Hazare Trophy, he wasn't even able to complete his quota of 10 overs.
"I have no issues with the fact that he is 30, but the numbers just don't stack up. The selectors really need to be clear about their vision, they can't take two steps backwards when someone averages 45."
However Rao, a former Karnataka batsman who played a solitary ODI for India, countered Dravid and said the team was selected after consulting with the coach and captain.
"We sit with the head coach, bowling coach, batting coach and the captain before we pick up the squad. But we will not interfere with the final XI," Rao told ESPNcricinfo.
Rao also pointed out that Brijesh Patel did not attend the selection meetings even though, as the association's secretary, he could have acted as convenor. "All the three selection meetings have been convened by the president [Ashok Anand]."
This will be Udit's second stint with Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy. Ignored by the previous selection panels, he switched to Tripura in the 2011-12 season but failed to make much impact as nine wickets in 12 matches at an average of 77 would suggest. He has played 31 first-class matches overall and picked up 54 wickets at an average of 45.62.
Such numbers were the reason behind Dravid's concern, Rao said Udit's performance in the recent years were part of the discussion.
In the Vijay Hazare Trophy that Karnataka won last month, Udit managed five wickets from six matches at an average of 38. But he had finished as the most successful bowler for Mangalore United and seventh overall in the Karnataka Premier League, with nine wickets at average of 20 and an economy rate of 6.92.
"He has been fairly doing well," Rao said. "[His selection] was based on the performance also. He has done well in Vijay Hazare. He has done well in both the Dr (Captain) K Thimmappaiah Memorial All India Invitation Cricket Tournament (four-day) and the Karnataka Premier League tournament this year. Two years back, he was the highest wicket-taker in the KSCA League."
Rao, though, stressed that the coaches had final say in deciding the XI. "In the finals of Vijay Hazare they did not play [Udit]. It is not necessary that even if he is picked in the 15 he will play in the final XI."
While Rao said he could not get Dravid on the line to explain the situation, he questioned the timing of the criticism. "We won three tournaments last year. We also retained the Vijay Hazare Trophy this year. I don't understand why they are commenting on the selection now."
Dravid was also critical of the selectors opting to pick 16 players for a home match. "Pick 15 initially, at the most, and when you decide on your playing XI, send one or two guys to the Under-23 team, that is a positive sign because you need players to get game time, not just sit on the bench. The selectors must have conviction in what they do, they must take tough decisions. Picking 16 players for a home game suggests to me that they are trying to please too many people," Dravid said.
However, Rao argued that the youngsters who would not play against Tamil Nadu would immediately travel to Hubli to participate in the BCCI's Under-23 tournament.
"When we play in Bangalore we name 16 players. From December 8, the Under-23 tournament is being played in Hubli. Previously BCCI would allow only three Ranji players in the Under-23 tournament. But from this year there is no such restriction. We have about eight Ranji players who are eligible to play in Under-23. One more reason to select 16 players is if some of these boys do not feature in the final XI for Ranji team, we will ask them to go to Hubli and represent Karnataka A instead of sitting on the bench."