Indian cricket is rich with a clutch of seasoned performers as well as exciting new talent.
Praise for captain Virat Kohli, coach Anil Kumble and the players has come in a torrent after England were beaten in the last T20 match at Bengaluru. Deservedly too. In the home season (as yet), the team have shown exemplary form, winning every rubber since the Tests against New Zealand.
Some part of the accolades, however, must be percolate to the selectors. The new committee, led by former wicket-keeper M.S.K. Prasad, which took charge in September last has been ‘on the ball’ in picking players for different formats, and not shying away from tough decisions when needed.
It may be said that the task of the selectors was easy since India were on a roll and playing at home. But in fact, this can sometimes make the situation more complex and decision-making more arduous.
Indian cricket is rich with a clutch of seasoned performers as well as exciting new talent. This makes for a lot of pressure for just a few places in the team. Intervention by selectors has to be fair, timely and with a clear understanding of objectives — short and long term — to be of value.
This is what the selectors managed extremely well. Parthiv Patel, for instance, was an inspired choice to replace injured Wriddhiman Saha in the Tests against England when the clamour was for someone younger. Patel played a key role — behind and in front of the stumps.
But equally important was restoring the wicket-keeper’s place to Saha once he was fit again. There were some arguments that Patel had done enough to be kept in the team, but that would have gone against the original logic of picking Saha over everybody else.
Of course, Saha quashed the debate with a scintillating double century in the Irani Cup against Gujarat, but that’s a different story. What’s pertinent is how the selectors had rationalised the prevailing scenario.
The success of Yuzavendra Chahal and Amit Mishra was the highlight of the T20 series. To omit off-spinner Parvez Rasool in two games and play two leg spinners against a side flush with left-hand batsmen redounds to the risk appetite of Kohli and Kumble. Chahal and Mishra would have obviously also benefited from Kumble’s experience.
But what if they hadn’t been chosen in the first place? The decision to rest star spinners Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who had the England batsmen in a bind, could not have been easy. In-form players are reluctant to miss out — and there is no end to flak if things go wrong.
What’s impressed me is that the selectors have been forward looking, yet have rewarded current form in domestic cricket irrespective of a player’s age. This threw up opportunities for Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Parthiv Patel, Karun Nair and Rishabh Pant.
Not everybody clicked. But nobody disputed that those selected were on merit, not on nostalgia or irrational enthusiasm. Simultaneously, Gambhir and Dhawan, who lost their places, could have no grouse that this was for anything other than poor form.
I am disinclined to believe that parochialism is still a factor in India’s cricket selection. That is a thing of the past. There is far more to be gained by the team doing well, and since selectors are also well-paid these days, choosing players other than on merit is counter-productive.
What has perhaps helped is that the current selectors are much younger (Prasad is in his early 40s) and therefore more in tune with the modern game. That they are not ‘heavyweight’ names has not been a limitation. In any case, cricket history suggests that former ‘star’ players do not necessarily make for good selectors.
Of course, there must be keen understanding of the game, but even more capacity for hard work and fastidious adherence to objective appraisal. Selectors who are too stodgy or too weak-kneed with captain and coach are both a problem.
By all accounts, the current committee is low profile but highly proactive and in constant liason with Kohli, Kumble and leaning quite heavily on Under-19 coach Rahul Dravid for inputs. This consolidated effort has played out rewardingly for India as yet in the middle.