‘Indian cricket has broken the wall of class, region and religion'

“Selection generally happens through meritocracy only - yes, here and there some unknown faces do come but at the end of the day, you are there to play cricket. Life moves on," said former India captain and a member of the 1983 World Cup winning squad, K. Srikkanth at the Hindu Literature Festival.

Suresh Menon (from left), N. Ram, Rajdeep Sardesai and K. Srikkanth at the Hindu Literature Festival in Chennai on Sunday.   -  Special Arrangement

The diversity of India’s multicultural landmass finds apt reflection in Indian cricket today and it is driven by meritocracy.

“Cricket is not meant for dynasties. Cricket is about merit but beyond that, cricket in this country, increasingly, is about breaking privilege. The India U-19 team has just beaten Australia in the U-19 World Cup and nine of those boys come from small towns,” Rajdeep Sardesai, veteran journalist and writer, said in a panel discussion titled ‘Beyond Runs and Wickets: The Great Indian Cricket Story’, at the Hindu Literature Festival here on Sunday.

“For them, cricket represents the energies of new India in a manner that very few activities do. Politics, maybe pre-independence, saw people coming from different walks of life with the mission of freeing the country.

“Today, politics is about family connections. On the other hand, cricket has broken the wall of class, region and religion. If Indian society opened up the way cricket did, we would be a much better country,” he added.

Meanwhile, N. Ram, Chairman, The Hindu Publishing Group, concurred with Rajdeep. “There were quotas and a lot of grievances that if you were in 'such and such' zone, you had a preference (in team selection); it wasn't anything dynastic. That must have been in earlier times. It was zonal chauvinism that we used to hear about; the actual situation, though, was very hard to measure and evaluate. You don't hear that anymore.

“But there have been conflicts of interest within the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) - we've heard stories about people saying that 'you've to play for my team otherwise you won't have a chance' - especially in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

“That said, by and large, it is a level playing field today. You could quarrel with selectorial choices but that's a matter of judgement. Sometimes captains have their preferences but that has always been the case.”

Former India captain and a member of the 1983 World Cup winning squad, K. Srikkanth, offered a slightly different view. "Selection policies can be debated, argued and criticised," Srikkanth said.

“Selection generally happens through meritocracy only - yes, here and there some unknown faces do come but at the end of the day, you are there to play cricket. Life moves on.

“Back in the day, there was no technology. Today, Television takes cricket into the rural villages and because of that, cricket has become big. Cricketers don't go after money, money comes after cricketers. They all play (the sport) with the same passion today.”

The panel, curated by cricket writer Suresh Menon, averred that though cricket in India is democratic, it's excessive commercial pulse is a cause for worry. The panel also stressed that cricket administrators should ensure that young players become well-rounded individuals with good education rather than be one dimensional.