Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
Former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin is set to offer advice to the Goa team, but the possible selection of his son Asaduddin has caused a stir among the players.
Goa's pre-season camp is currently underway in Hyderabad, where Asaduddin is among 27 players in participation. The side will play pre-season matches after which the final squad of 15 will be picked for the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the domestic 50-over competition, starting September 19. The GCA implied he isn't an automatic pick, but former players and a number of fringe players in the group are miffed at why he has even been brought into the mix.
Shadab Jakati, the 37-year old allrounder who has picked up 275 wickets in 92 first-class matches, lashed out at the Goa Cricket Association (GCA) for picking players according to their "whims and fancies". However, Daya Pagi, the GCA secretary, insisted Asaduddin's selection was subject to performance at the pre-season camp and that he has been picked out unfairly.
"We have two other professionals, no one is talking about them," Pagi told ESPNcricinfo. "A legend like Azharuddin came forward to help, and we have accepted his offer. We haven't signed any formal agreement, he has just agreed to help out. It's just a verbal understanding. His son is also a cricketer, and we thought why not give him a chance and see how good he is, after all we can't afford to pay big money to some other professionals. There is no other motive."
The selection of 29-year old Asaduddin, a left-handed top-order batsman, became a talking point because he has no first-class experience and he last played a competitive match in 2009, for a Hyderabad Colts side. Asaduddin had previously attended IPL trials with a number of franchises and even moved to Uttar Pradesh to pursue first-class cricket, but couldn't get a break.
"This isn't about me being dropped," Jakati said. "Even last year, I was left out after picking five wickets against Punjab, so it's not like I am suddenly coming out and saying this. They wanted to give young players an opportunity. Me, Asnodkar and Saurabh Bandekar weren't even considered for the probables camp because of that, but the next thing I find out is they've inducted Asaduddin, who is 29 years old. On what basis? Just because he's son of a former India captain?"
Jakati picked up only seven wickets in three first-class matches last season - including a five-for - but he was Goa's highest-wicket taker in 2016-17, with 41 wickets in nine matches. While Jakati said he wasn't bothered by his omission, he questioned the GCA's logic of picking players after he was informed that it was the management's decision to give younger players a chance.
It's not just Asaduddin's selection that has angered Jakati and many fringe players. The association has roped in Amit Verma, the Karnataka allrounder, and Aditya Kaushik, a 26-year old batsman, from Delhi. While Verma has won a Ranji Trophy with Karnataka, Kaushik too, like Asaduddin, has no first-class experience and played the last of his 11 T20s for Delhi in 2016. Jakati alleged that Kaushik is being pursued to play as a local player because his father has business interests in Goa.
"I'm not against picking professionals, many teams do that, but my fight against the GCA is in how they go about picking them," Jakati said. "If you want to build a team and get players from outside, you want to be bringing those who can lend their experience to youngsters here, guide them and take some ownership. If you're bringing players who themselves have no clue of first-class cricket, how are you helping the cause of young players in the state? What is the message you're sending out?"
So far, neither Azhaduddin, who is yet to join the camp in Hyderabad, nor Asaduddin have offered to comment on the selection controversy. Prakash Mayekar, the head coach, confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that he hadn't been consulted in picking their professional players.
"This is the decision of the management. They sent him here for the camp to look how good he is. I have not seen him much, very frankly, so it's just the call of the management," Mayekar said. "The decision of selecting him [Asaduddin] is not final. Five-six days before this controversy, they told me 'he is going to join your camp and he is not decided yet.' Let's see how good he is."
In his response, Jakati, who wasn't sure of his immediate future, asked if Azharuddin's involvement in a mentorship capacity didn't equate to a conflict of interest under BCCI's guidelines. "I want some clarity, how is this not conflict of interest?" he asked. "I have nothing against him but my stance is to fight for Goa cricketers. I am not interested in playing even if picked this season after what has transpired. But I hope there is justice met because the careers of many is at stake."