Selecting the selectors: a key job in Indian cricket, but who'd want to take it up?

Hard, unglamorous work, lack of popularity, and lots of blame when things go wrong - no wonder it's the last choice of most eligible candidates

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Former India chief selector MSK Prasad talks to the media in Melbourne; despite difficulties, Prasad ran a smooth operation with Rahul Dravid and Ravi Shastri  •  Getty Images

Former India chief selector MSK Prasad talks to the media in Melbourne; despite difficulties, Prasad ran a smooth operation with Rahul Dravid and Ravi Shastri  •  Getty Images

A cricket organisation recently fired a whole department.
Actually, it is a bit of an educated assumption that the people in the department were sacked, given none of them had finished their terms, but the organisation has advertised for their jobs. The fact of the advertising, a requirement allegedly forced on the organisation by an independent review following a corruption scandal and cases of conflict of interest, is the only confirmed information anyone has on this development.
Who in their right mind would apply for these jobs?
Yes, you have assumed right. If the said organisation can be so callous, it must follow that it is able to get away with being thus. Cricket is among the few legal recreational drugs in India, and the BCCI are the only ones selling it.
Not only does the BCCI operate in a monopoly market, if you are a former cricketer in India looking to work in cricket, you can't afford to be on its wrong side. It has unchecked influence on the careers of commentators, coaches, media pundits, talent scouts and selectors. So, how difficult can it be for this body to replace one set of selectors with another?
Not very. Don't expect a beeline of suitable candidates. There might be many applications pouring in as we speak, but a job arguably more important than even that of the India head coach will now be most eligible people's last choice. A commentary job is much less work, and comes with much less accountability and much more exposure and glamour. And with broadcasts branching out into regional languages, there are more commentary jobs out there than ever before. Coaching pays more, and there is often a public outcry if your contract is not extended, let alone if you are unceremoniously sacked.
Selectors, punching bags for those who follow the sport and those who play it, fulfil an unpopular but crucial role. Even the easiest part of the job - selecting the first 15 in consultation with the team management - by its nature doesn't endear them to people. In a country with a high volume of talent available, you are disappointing ten or so players at any given selection meeting. You have to balance what is best for the team with keeping players who are close to selection motivated.
It is outside of picking the top 25 cricketers that your skill, your eye, your hard work, really shine through. You keep the next set of 25 identified and ready. You do this by watching matches that are not on TV, travelling to games all over India where you don't always get replays. You tap into your informal network of junior selectors, coaches, match referees and umpires to add context to some of the numbers you get from matches you haven't seen. You manage these players' progress to a stage where they become contenders and catch the eye of the national captain and coach, who can't possibly keep track of all the performers in domestic cricket.
At least that's how the set-up worked until A tours were curtailed during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. Before that the selectors prided themselves in having replacements ready for most of the first-choice group. That system broke a little, and India have been among the slowest to reinstate developmental cricket in the aftermath of Covid.
Looking at the bigger picture, the selectors make more significant decisions than the team management. They decide the direction the team takes in the long run. Of course they do it in unison with the team management, but at least on paper the final call belongs to them.
The "on paper" part is significant here. Chetan Sharma, the recently sacked chairman of selectors and his team will tend to agree. If they can be dismissed so easily, presumably by the board president or the secretary, is it really wise to have one of those officials (usually the secretary) sit in on each selection meeting and the other (usually the president) ratify each selection?
Just imagine this job description: have integrity beyond reproach, travel a lot, stay unseen, make crucial decisions on which the future of the team and many more players rest, be unpopular, get paid a tenth of what the coach gets, open yourself up to being sacked by people who wield all the power and have little formal accountability, and have no public support while you're at it.
It is no surprise that the sharpest minds and bodies among retired cricketers choose other avenues as far as possible. And the latest turn of events has not done anything to make the job more attractive at a time when India desperately need to put their developmental systems back on track. Rahul Dravid with the senior team and VVS Laxman at the National Cricket Academy need a third ally with whom they can build the right squads and pick the right teams. During the time of the Committee of Administrators, put in charge of Indian cricket by the courts, the three-way team of senior coach Ravi Shastri, developmental coach Dravid, and chief selector MSK Prasad worked almost seamlessly.
When India should be discussing progressive steps, such as whether they need a director of cricket to ensure similarly smooth operations, or if they need to split their coaching teams for red-ball and white-ball cricket, or if the selectors need more technical support in terms of videos and data, or if they need a younger, more recently retired representative on the selection committee to bring in first-hand T20 knowledge, there has instead been a massive step backwards.
We will soon find out who has come forward to offer to select Indian teams. Hopefully they will not just have been desperate. Hopefully they will quickly be able to get into a working relationship with the team management, because we are already on the road to the 2023 World Cup and in a critical period of transition in Test cricket too.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo