Indian Cricket: The Captain and the Coach have no more say in Selection Matters

It’s only two months since the new BCCI Selection Committee was formed. Already Kris Srikkanth and his team have made a couple of commendable things such as gracefully allowing Ganguly and Kumble to retire and being diplomatic in not criticizing senior players publicly, like his predecessor used to do.

The latest bold move from the selection committee is to keep the team captain and coach away from the selection matters. This move came in after the controversy over the selection of Irfan Pathan over RP Singh for one-dayers against England, a couple of weeks ago.

India is a country where cricket is a religion or even fanaticism. It is even part of politics and plays a role in uniting the country as well as dividing it sometimes. We have a region based selection policy still prevailing here and hence once in a while controversies are bound to happen. Now, de-coupling the captain and the coach from selection responsibilities can keep some selection controversies and partiality away, that was prevailing during some of the previous captains and coaches’ tenure. However, they have to still tackle the following issues:

  • Avoid regional bias as much as possible. One could argue how suddenly some of the Mumbai players are out and more Tamil Nadu players are coming in now!
  • Avoid making controversial public statements that put the captain, coach or team members into a state of confusion or embarrassment
  • Do not interfere with the players too much and avoid frequent dressing room visits
  • Come up with a succession plan for the current batting heroes of the test side
  • Most importantly ‘avoid the leak out confidential selection meeting proceedings,minutes or any classified secrets’

The good thing about the current captain and coach is that they both have high level of commitment and professionalism built into them that they can make the best out of the team that is handed over to them. Hope the cause of taking Indian cricket to the #1 spot will still remain focused!

Selection Controversy & Leak out of confidential BCCI matters

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is in spotlight for a not so good reason for the first time! Apparently the Indian skipper is not happy with the selection of Irfan Pathan, at the cost of R.P. Singh, for the reminder of India-England ODI series.

Now, the key thing here is that neither Dhoni nor the BCCI spokesperson has talked about it! The media has been talking about this ‘FLASH NEWS’ continuously and even made statements that Dhoni is willing to relinquish his captaincy. Dhoni later clarified that he’s not commented anything to the public or media and that slowed down our stupid TV channels’ energy levels for good.

Scenario 1

Supposing that Dhoni has taken a stand against the dropping of R.P.Singh, I would think that he’s living in fool’s paradise. It’s not even a year since he got the most prestigious and responsible role in Indian cricket. He has really proved his worth and continuously improving as well. At this point of time, if he wants to flex his muscles, he may become nobody in no time. Also, just in case he has been speaking to the media on this topic, it is again bad for the Indian team and Dhoni himself.

Scenario 2

If Dhoni fought in the selection committee meeting with his playing eleven in mind, but played it diplomatically (which I think he would have done), somebody else within the BCCI selection panel or in the office is leaking out confidential news to the media. This is not the first time that confidential matters have been leaked out (They even leaked out Greg Chappel’s mail to BCCI on Ganguly matters).

If scenario 2 is the case, somebody within BCCI or in the vicinity there in is making money out of all these backdoor activities.

I thought things were getting better with the Indian cricket – both on and off the field, on the game as well as governance. It seems not everything is fine yet!

Indian test squad for the tour to Sri Lanka

The Indian team for the test series in Sri Lank has been announced! There are no real surprises after the ODI captain and wicket keeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni opted out of this tour due to the need for some good rest.

The inclusion of Pragyan Ojha and Rohit Sharma into the test squad is the right move. Both of them definitely have shown much more maturity than their age demand and have been professional in their approaches. Ojha could also use this opportunity to play with an experienced spin legend like Anil Kumble. Rohit Sharma, I feel, has nothing more to learn to qualify for the test team but just need to learn to stay at the crease a little longer.

Yuvraj Singh’s omission is a very good message to youngsters that ‘performing in patches’ will not help anybody to be part of the test team. I always thought Yuvi doesn’t have what it takes to play test matches and extremely low on temperament to play longer. He is a poor player against spin bowling and Sri Lanka has some great spinners around right now.

In the pace bowling department, I thought Manpreet Gony could have been given a chance ahead of Munaf Patel as the latter has the history of getting injured or loosing confidence half way through test series, more often than not. Gony is a better batsman and fielder as well. Probably, the selectors are over worried about the fact that Sreesanth is not available for this tour to open along with Zaheer and Ishant Sharma has been looking a little bit different of late as compared to his form in Australia last year. The decision not to consider Irfan Pathan for the sub-continent wickets sounds reasonable as well.

Now that the team is selected, the team think-tank needs to do a couple of things to get the results right and also to nurture the youngsters for the future. As a basic rule probably they should allow only three out of the big five (Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Ganguly and Sehwag) to play in any match together. Otherwise, the youngsters will not get any chance to perform along with the experienced ones. I hope that Gary Kirsten and Anil Kumble will give some thought to plan towards the future. Also the big six (with Kumble) should realize that time has come for them to rotate and slowly retire over a period of one to one and half years.

Dhoni opts out
Dhoni’s decision to opt out of this test series sounds more like a ‘forced’ supporting act to his statements earlier in the press. While players definitely need some break and probably have rotation policy what they have to cut down is the number of one-dayers and Twenty 20 matches. Hope he gets some good rest and greater number of endorsements during his much needed break from test matches. Or is it a silent protest against the selectors for not considering him for the test captaincy of an aging team?

The brainless think-tank!

We are just a couple of weeks into India’s latest encounter down under. A cricket series in Australia is always something that the fans look forward to due to a couple of facts. First of all, we get to see it only once in four years – so it is something as important as the Olympic games! Secondly, it is a beauty to watch and feel professional test cricket at its highest levels with lively pitches, fans, cricket governing bodies and media playing their own roles to perfection – and sometimes beyond – to make it a mega event. Personally, watching test matches, in which Australia participates, gives me more satisfaction than watching matches involving any other competitive teams. India’s last outing in Australia during 2003-04 has been thrilling for the outcome that we all are proud of but the current series is already turning out to be disappointing due to improper planning.

This series was hyped to be the best chance to beat Australia in its own den as it is probably the last Australian tour for India’s ‘strong’ and prolific middle order men as well as their best bowler ever, Anil Kumble, who happens to be captaining the side as well. However, having talent on paper or executing the same in subcontinent pitches and other favourable conditions alone is not sufficient for tours abroad, especially in Australia.

The Indian cricket board missed a trick or two during the Pakistan tour to India itself. If India genuinely wanted to perform in Australia, they should have scheduled at least couple of test matches in good test cricket pitches like Mohali or Chennai. By not doing so, they managed to escape from Shoaib Akhtar & co and won against Pakistan but miserably failing in Australia. As they arrived late in Australia this time and the lone practice match was disturbed by rain, the preparation at home had to be better.

The next mistake was the team selection and continuing experiments with the batting order. If they had any plan to include (surprise!) Virender Sehwag in the squad he should have been given a chance in at least one test match against Pakistan. Sehwag though not in great form gives some headache to the opposition even though his stay at crease may be shorter. Against Australia, one needs to be mentally prepared and try to offend and attack rather than playing defensive game like Dravid did in the first innings of the first test in Melbourne. If not Sehwag, for sure Dinesh Karthik should have been opening with Wasim Jaffer. Karthik has been a revelation during the series in England and South Africa. It is really surprising that the team think tank decided not to play him due to his couple of failures in dead pitches in India. Ideally he could have played the role that Akash Chopra played in the last series in Australia. On the other hand, the Indian team management decided to sacrifice the stability and composition of the team by not picking the right openers only to include some flat pitch heroes or ODI/Twenty 20 specialists in the batting lineup. To begin a series with positive frame of mind, India had to really attack. The bowlers did it very well but batsmen spoilt all those great efforts. The problem is not really with the batsmen but the roles they are assigned to play. This failure will definitely affect the rest of the test series as well as the performance in the ODIs. For example, Yuvaraj Singh should have been maintained only for ODIs and his failures in tests will also reflect in his approach to the ODI series.

The untimely statements of the selection committee chairman had created a lot of chaos for the players in the past. It is not his job to comment in the press and put players under pressure. I guess, players like Virender Sehwag, Mohammed Kaif, Saurav Ganguly, Dinesh Karthik and now Rahul Dravid are the victims of this wrong statements of expectation. The under-pressure players then react by playing defensive games and targeting individual achievements rather than playing for the team’s cause.

As I mentioned just a while back, having a positive frame of mind is very important to play Australia. Having restricted Australia to less than 350 runs and more importantly getting them all out in less than a day (How often does it happen?), India’s reply was too negative in nature. Rahul Dravid and Wasim Jaffer didn’t make any attempt to rule the Aussies. Another important thing was that probably the in form Ganguly probably should have batted at No. 4. Tendulkar’s attitude in the second innings is always questionable. While chasing huge scores and if couple of wickets are already down he has this ‘why should I waste my time and energy, anyway we are going to loose’ attitude. Another problem is the fielding ethics by the Indians. Even Australia has many players in their mid thirtys but their commitment is far better than that of the Indians. For example, Indians easily allow the opposition to convert their ones to twos and twos to threes. Australians always keep the batsmen under pressure by charging in or by a sudden pick, turn and throw. The bad running between the wicktes have been another example of defensive cricket by the Indians.

If India has to win at least one match in this series, they need to get their basics right from the selection itself. First they needs to pick their best openers and then three or four middle order batsmen followed by a wicket keeper. Depending on the nature of pitch three seamers plus one spinner or two seamers plus two spinners can be picked. It is even worth trying a combination of two openers, three middle order men, one wicket keeper batsman, three seamers (off which one is an all rounder) and two spinners. Ones they get the team composition right, they can plan and pace the game better. This will also reassure and remind each and every person in the team about their roles.

As a long-term step, the BCCI has to really change their mindset to save the Indian cricket from test matches point of view. At the moment, BCCI is more like running a money making business rather than governing a sports body. Due to this attitude, they are concentrating on categories that fetch in money and hence more focus on one day cricket, telecast rights etc. If they are truly worried about the future of Indian cricket, they need to do a few things like providing world class pitches in India, improving domestic itinerary and format, introducing new talent search program, coming up with fair selection policies, forming succession planning etc. It’s a fact that India’s top four batsmen and bowler will retire from international cricket in less than two years time and who are going to fill in there?

At the moment, as a short term goal, we can only hope for a better team composition and better mindsets from the players in the upcoming test matches in Australia. Wishing the Indian cricket all the very best for this new year and their very first match of the year being played in Sydney!

BCCI selection folly

For the past one and half years or so the Sharad Pawar regime has been performing a notch above their predecessors. Even when part of the country and fans were crying ‘foul’ against Greg Chappell’s experiments and exclusion of Saurav Ganguly from the squad, I thought BCCI stood tall and did a professional job. Most of the governance aspects as well as future planning made sense – so did their good acts towards suffering sports bodies and retired sportsmen.

Though experiments were part of the long term plans – even beyond World Cup 2007 – the selection process and the selectors seems to have come under the media/fans pressure yet again. The sending back act of Irfan Pathan (Sehwag somehow missed the flight that day!) during the SA tour made sense – so did their bold decisions to exclude Mohammed Kaif and Suresh Raina from the scheme of things for the WC. What is not convincing though is the final team selection for the World Cup 2007. Since other major cricketing nations have more injury worries, India had their best chances to pick a championship winning team, instead the selectors opted to make couple of unconvincing decisions.

Irfan Pathan and Virender Sehwag were once dropped on the basis of their pathetic form and recent performances. From the domestic performances since then, I have not seen anything so great about the duo that they need to be picked for this World cup. It is true that an allrounder brings a lot of balance to any one-day side but that is when he’s in form and exudes confidence. I personally feel that Pathan should not have figured in the WC squad this year – for the sake of his own career as well as for the present and future of Indian cricket. The last test match that we lost in South Africa earlier this year has to be attributed to the team management decision to make Sehwag open the second innings! We had just discovered an in form and confident stand-in opening batsman in Dinesh Karthick and that advantage was goofed by Sehwag’s inclusion as the opener. India spoilt the chances of winning their first ever test series victory in South Africa with that foolish act. It seemed that Rahul Dravid was behind that decision. According to what our chairman of selectors have just spilled out, the captain is again behind the selection of Virender Sehwag as a dashing opener. This sends wrong signals to the set and condident youngsters like Robin Uthappa.

I thought this is the first time that India is sending 5 specialist seam bowlers to the World Cup. This is again a very stupid decision. One should remember that the current Indian squad has got only two specialist spinners and they are not touring South Africa or Australia but West Indies. The West Indian pitches right now are pancake-flat and cannot do any good to the pacemen. I would have expected Ramesh Powar included in this squad instead of Irfan Pathan. He’s a good offspinner as well as a confident lower order batsman. The argument could be that Sehwag or Yuvaraj may be able to bowl five or six overs along with Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar to complete the fifth bowlers role. But in the flat pitches in West Indies, I am sure that they will be hammered all around the park.

Since we have already picked Robin Uthappa, Sourav Ganguly and possibly Sachin Tendulkar as openers, I would have expected the selectors to pick another strong middle order batsman than Sehwag. I still wonder why VVS Laxman cannot figure in this World Cup squad. The only argument against Laxman is his poor ground Fielding but anyhow the current squad is not a great fielding side. It is a shame for India that players like VVS Laxman will never get a chance to play a World Cup match unless some of our batsmen gets injured as the event progresses. If Laxman is not the right choice, I would still rate somebody like Dinesh Mongia higher than Sehwag in his current form. Mongia had an excellent 2006 season during his county stint and I thought he has been treated quite unfairly – not forgetting the fact that he got undeserved berth in the last World Cup.

A lot of people these days talk about Sachin Tendulkar’s assignment as the Vice Captain of the team – that he is being humiliated by this second role etc. I don’t read too much into it. In fact, it is a strong statement from the management that only those who perform and sure to be in the final eleven gets this post. That way Sehwag cannot be the vice captain so cannot be injury prone Yuvaraj Singh. It also emphasizes the fact that Sachin has more of a senior mentor’s role to play in his final World cup appearance. I think this is a very good move.

Lastly, the comments made by our chairman of selectors during his chat with the press was quite bad-timed. It was really stupid of a gentleman like him to talk about internal selection matters in the press – that too when team India was just about to start their World Cup campaign. Probably he was a bit too frustrated with the regional politics or was it an outburst because of his own lads (Powar and Jaffer) not finding a place there?