There is an age-old saying in cricket, “a captain is as good as his team…”
But over the last couple of years, there has been a theory floating in the corridors of Indian cricket that “a team is as good as the selectors…” While some may respond to it with a laugh, it has to be admitted that India’s debacle in big-ticket events indeed puts the five-member national selection committee under scrutiny.
While many felt that the panel - led by Chetan Sharma - lacked long-term vision, the fact that they failed to zero in on a stable captain post the 2021 T20 World Cup debacle (handing the role to almost everyone - from K. L. Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Jasprit Bumrah to Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya - when Rohit Sharma was out of action) also did not go down well with a section of the administrators.
And it became evident that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) office-bearers were looking to alter the panel after India failed to reach the final of the Asia Cup in the United Arab Emirates earlier this year. Only a title win in the T20 World Cup in Australia could have saved Sharma and his panel, but with India bowing out of the semifinals, those hopes were also dashed.
A selection committee usually gets a four-year term, but while appointing Sharma as the chairman of the panel in December 2020 along with Debasish Mohanty and Abey Kuruvilla, the BCCI had made it clear that the Cricket Advisory Committee will ‘review the candidates after a one-year period and make recommendations to the BCCI’.
The selection committee was given another extension last year despite India’s early exit from the T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. After that debacle, many expected that things would change but since December 2021, the panel found itself in the middle of several controversies.
Other members of the panel were not allowed to address the media, and chairman Sharma, too, was hardly available for press interactions after selection committee meetings - a stark contrast to his predecessor M. S. K. Prasad. So, even after a dodgy selection or a major change, there was no way of knowing the panel’s vision.
In its two-year term, the committee went back and forth with its decision and moved the goalposts from time to time, unable to stick to a long-term plan.
Rotation, one-dimensional top-order and more
Not taking lessons from last year’s disastrous T20 World Cup campaign in the UAE, the selectors went ahead with rest and rotation for players. Since Dravid took charge as the head coach in November last year, he worked with several stand-in captains as Rohit and seniors like Virat Kohli were rested frequently to monitor workload. Leading up to this year’s T20 World Cup, the panel continued resting the senior players and decided to divide two white-ball teams - one for T20s and the other for ODIs. But that policy of resting the players did not yield the desired result.
Toeing the line of the team management, the selectors went ahead with a one-dimensional top order – Rohit, K. L. Rahul, and Kohli. While Kohli returned to form in the Asia Cup and eventually finished as the highest run-scorer in the T20 World Cup, Rahul and Rohit struggled throughout on Australian pitches. Despite Rahul’s continuous failure, the committee did not look beyond him.
Poor handling of Bumrah, Hardik injuries
Ahead of the 2021 T20 World Cup, chairman of the selection panel Sharma addressed a media interaction and said that Hardik will be available to bowl during the tournament. But the all-rounder, who was yet to recover fully, did not bowl in the UAE and struggled with his fitness. Back then, questions were raised on whether the selectors were misinformed about Bumrah’s fitness.
But the panel clearly did not take lessons from last year’s experience. This time around, Jasprit Bumrah missed out on the Asia Cup due to an injury, but before finalising the squad for the 2022 T20 World Cup, the panel included Bumrah in the side. But a recurring back injury forced the fast bowler to miss out on the World Cup after featuring in just a couple of T20Is against Australia in September. Bumrah looked uncomfortable and eventually missed out on the home series against South Africa as well.
While addressing the media last month, Sharma admitted that the panel rushed Bumrah as the T20 World Cup was nearing. That move backfired and did not go down well with the BCCI top brass.
After Bumrah was injured, the selectors named Mohammed Shami as his replacement. Interestingly, Shami was left out of the T20I setup in November 2021 and in a crunch situation, the selectors drafted him into the squad without even giving him any game time for the last 12 months.
Kohli’s captaincy controversy
After a long stint as captain, Kohli announced that he would give up T20I captaincy after the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE. Though he wanted to stay on as the ODI captain, the selectors did not grant his wish and decided to hand over the captaincy to Rohit.
Kohli eventually gave up Test captaincy on his own, and soon there were conflicting public statements from Kohli, selection panel head Sharma and former BCCI chief Sourav Ganguly on the captaincy issue. While Ganguly and Sharma said that Kohli was initially asked not to quit captaincy, the cricketer claimed otherwise. The poor handling of the issue led to severe criticism.
Tough call on seniors
In February this year, the selection panel left out senior cricketers - Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, and Wriddhiman Saha - from the Test squad for the home series against Sri Lanka. With Pujara and Rahane going through a rough patch, they were asked to go back to domestic cricket. Saha, however, was informed by both Dravid and chief selector Sharma that he won’t be considered for India any longer.
While a section of the fraternity had then welcomed the move claiming that more youngsters should be drafted in, the same panel picked Dinesh Karthik for the T20I squad after a good outing with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL. The 37-year-old Karthik wasn’t even in the scheme of things for a while, but suddenly the selection committee showed faith in him and kept him as a finisher for this year’s T20 World Cup as well. But that move backfired as Karthik could score just 14 runs in three innings, eventually forcing the team management to replace him with Rishabh Pant.
The fact that the selectors ignored Sanju Samson, who looked fairly consistent, and settled for Karthik, was baffling.
Even last year, the panel left out Yuzvendra Chahal from the squad for the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE, a decision that earned criticism as spinners fared fairly well in the tournament.
The waiting game…
Several former cricketers - including Dilip Vengsarkar, Brett Lee, and Harbhajan Singh - batted for the inclusion of Umran Malik in the India squad for the 2022 T20 World Cup. But the selection panel had other plans. Though he was asked to join the team as a net bowler, a visa delay led to cancellation of Umran’s Australia tour. The youngster impressed one and all with his 150-plus speed in the IPL and after warming the bench for the home series against South Africa in June, Umran had a forgettable outing against Ireland. But it seemed that the selectors and the team management did not want to pursue further with Umran and he fell out of favour.
The selectors also ignored Sarfaraz Khan for the upcoming Test series against Bangladesh. The Mumbai batter has been in red-hot form in the domestic circuit, but the selectors clearly weren’t too convinced about drafting the young batter into the Test side. Prithvi Shaw was also ignored despite being fairly consistent in the domestic season.
In its two-year stint, the incumbent selection panel found itself in the headlines time and again - for the wrong reasons. With too many decisions backfiring, the pressure was mounting on the panel. And India’s semifinal exit in the T20 World Cup was the final nail in the coffin.