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News Analysis

Calling Delhi, anybody home?

While Ishant Sharma cannot be absolved of all blame in the Delhi Ranji squad selection fiasco, the majority of it undoubtedly lies with the chaotic state association

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Ishant Sharma was made to toil for his four wickets, England v India, 5th Investec Test, The Oval, 3rd day, August 17, 2014

Could Ishant Sharma be expected to know which faction of a disorderly Delhi association to get in touch with while at an India camp in Bangalore?  •  AFP

A day after the laughable exclusion of Ishant Sharma from the Delhi team, more unfortunate aspects of Indian cricket have emerged. The Delhi selectors left him out of the side because "he didn't answer their phone nor responded to our text", but the larger forces at play here are Delhi's shambolic cricket administration and also the tug-of-war between India's fast bowlers, wanting to rest a little when they are off international duty, and their state associations wanting to show them their place.
Talk to those in the know in Delhi cricket, and it is common knowledge that Ishant wanted to sit out of the first two matches. Except that he hadn't officially informed them. That hurts egos, and instead of giving out rest as the reason for not picking Ishant in the squad for the first match the Delhi selectors blamed Ishant, who is part of the pre-season camp in Bangalore. The egos have perhaps been satisfied: Ishant has informed the Delhi authorities he will be available for the team's second match.
The games, though, are not over. Delhi have gone ahead and named him in the squad for the first match too. Vinay Lamba, the chairman of selectors, says they would love for Ishant to play in the first game too. Their intriguing press release - "Ishant Sharma has confirmed his availability for the second Ranji Trophy match but we are including him in the team right now" - is a classic case of putting the ball in the opponent's court. The bowler is now seen to be asking for rest when he can play all the international cricket and all the IPL.
Lamba says he called Ishant, who says he didn't receive any calls. The truth is somewhere in between. International cricketers get hundreds of calls from unknown numbers. They generally don't answer calls from numbers they don't know. There was no text, Ishant says, though Lamba says there was. These are not signs of a state team trying to pick its best XV to win as many matches as possible. For that team would have tried to get in touch with Ishant long ago, and not on the eve of the selection meeting. That team would have got one of the officials whose number Ishant would have saved on his phone to call the player. They could have asked the captain Gautam Gambhir to call him. The unwritten code generally to deal with star players in Indian domestic cricket is that the captain gets in touch with him, and asks him what matches he wants to play. None of that has happened with Ishant.
In the past, too, India's captain MS Dhoni and former bowling coach Joe Dawes have both complained about state sides' unwillingness to let India fast bowlers rest. "We have got a couple of youngsters that say when they ask [state associations] not to bowl at training, they are told they have got bad attitude and that they are lazy when they are actually trying to manage their bodies," Dawes had told ESPNcricinfo.
Such complaints about attitude would have sounded a little less rich coming from a side other than Delhi, a side that has only to gain from Ishant's game while Ishant has little to gain. The money is loose change for him, the administration is a shambles, and facilities are non-existent when compared with international cricket, but Ishant is still playing. He has asked for rest for just one match.
It doesn't completely absolve Ishant, though. He should have informed the selectors if he wanted to rest. However, when asked by ESPNcricinfo if he hadn't informed them earlier, Ishant asked the question that has been around for a while: who is running the Delhi team? Which faction should Ishant have informed? Who will be coaching Delhi? What was the assurance that Vinay Lamba, Hari Gidwani and Rahul Sanghvi were going to finally be the selectors after three different preliminary squads had been named by three different factions? How does a player keep tab of all these machinations while also putting in long hours at the pre-season camp at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore? Seam position one second, sports committee next?
Seriously, though, Ishant must learn his lesson. For all that cricket has changed, for all the shift towards performance over perception, if ever you need to stage a comeback into international cricket, you need to do it through performances for your state association. Ishant might be in the form of his life right now, but in a leaner period he will need these state bosses. Such is life in Indian cricket. A perfect solution in Ishant's case, and many others, would have been - and Dawes advocated that - a Pat Howard-like performance manager of Indian cricket, who would have officially made the communication of the need for resting Ishant to Delhi. Just like how Cricket Australia made sure Kings XI Punjab knew exactly how many deliveries Mitchell Johnson could bowl in which training session in the IPL.
Except, in Delhi's case, whom do you tell?

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo