Indian Summers: the heat and dust

JOHN WRIGHT WITH SOURAV GANGULY: The New Zealander has accused the former India captain of being high-handed and arrogant.-V. V. KRISHNAN

While John Wright's tome has evoked extreme reactions in Indian cricket, the purpose and timing of the former India coach's revelations are QUESTIONABLE, writes NANDITA SRIDHAR.

In the written word, Indian cricket has found its most recent source of controversies. If e-mails changing course weren't enough, excerpts from former Indian coach John Wright's book, `Indian Summers', have done what even a remotely debatable topic in Indian cricket always does. They evoked extreme reactions, some damning Wright, and a few others in agreement with his views. The middle-path, in Indian cricket, is mostly non-existent.

To expect Wright's comments on the selection process to be greeted with silence would have been sheer naivety. Blunt remarks from a man closely associated with Indian cricket for nearly five years, always spoken and written about as quiet, and other similar meaning adjectives, were expectedly perceived as unacceptable and out of character.

On the other hand, the New Zealander's remarks on Sourav Ganguly's nature, and the controversial declaration at Multan with Sachin Tendulkar on 194, which he described as a "hot potato in our hands," were simply reaffirmations of traits and incidents already fossilised in the public mind.

Writing on Sourav Ganguly's "high-handedness and arrogance" is redundant, especially for Indian cricket fans who are more aware of the former captain's legendary traits than probably their own. But Wright's secret admiration of Ganguly's rebellious streak reflects the views of a nation that had come to admire Ganguly's leadership qualities. But the comments that irked most people were his views on the selection process, and to a lesser extent, his expression of annoyance at Sunil Gavaskar's appointment as a batting consultant without his consent — a decision (which he later learnt from Gavaskar himself) that was made by Ganguly.

"The first six or seven selections were straightforward. But when it got down to the marginal selections, those last three or four spots that determine the balance of the team and your ability to develop new players, the zonal factor kicked in and things would get interesting," he wrote.

Mohammad Kaif and V. V. S. Laxman (below). According to Wright the two players were only one or two failures away from having their place in the Indian team questioned.-V. GANESAN

"It was easy to tell when selectors had come to a meeting with an agenda... If their boys weren't picked, they tended to cross their arms, clam up and take no further part in the meeting."

He also added that V. V. S. Laxman and Mohammad Kaif were only one or two failures away from having their place in the team questioned.

What exploded out of these remarks were a series of denials, and furious allegations. The BCCI Secretary Niranjan Shah was far from happy. "It's a democratic process. What's wrong in selectors backing players from their region if they know their potential?'' he told UNI.

Shah did not take Wright lightly on the issue of Gavaskar's appointment as batting consultant. "He should have raised the issues when he was in the job and not after having made a good packet as compensation. What's the use of talking now?" he countered.

Former National selector Ashok Malhotra barely spared a word while criticising the Kiwi. "Where do you think so many young players came from if the selectors were not doing their work? Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and their lot came in because of the selectors. He (Wright) knew 20 players, but we knew 290 and so there would be a difference," he told UNI.

"I am really sorry to say that these foreign coaches come to India to earn millions of dollars and go back to write books criticising the country. When they are here they toe the line, and only when they go back they find so many faults," said Malhotra.

Virender Sehwag, as one would expect any current Indian cricketer to do, spoke in favour of the selection process. "Talented players get picked whether they are from West or North zone," India's vice-captain said. "Obviously when you have a North Zone selector in the committee, he will make a mention about players who have been performing well there, at the meeting. The player does not get selected because he is from North Zone. Ultimately it is the decision of the five selectors," he added.

Former India fast bowler T. A. Sekhar was also critical of the former coach. "Wright is exposing himself by writing totally untrue matters like this after five years.

"After having earned over 200,000 dollars annually for five years, it is obvious that he wants to make some more money by writing such things so that the book sells well," he told PTI.

Sekhar also questioned why Wright did not want Laxman in the 2003 World Cup squad.

"If the selection process was regionalised, how come the team was able to perform so well in the 2003 World Cup?" he asked.

Former National selection committee chairman Chandu Borde said that Wright's comments were in "bad taste". "After all, he was present in all our meetings as a coach and he never expressed such things in the meetings. He used to say that he was happy about the players given to him," he said.

Borde added that Wright's contribution at the selection committee meetings was usually restricted to saying yes or no.

N. SRIDHARAN

Former Indian cricketer and selector Yashpal Sharma also spoke in favour of the selection system and said, "The zonal system has been in existence for decades."

Not toeing the `Wright is wrong' line was Ajit Wadekar, former India coach and National selection committee chairman. "It has been going on for ages. It has been happening mainly because of the zonal system of nominating selectors. I reiterate that I have been pointing out this flaw in our system. The Board needs to act on this at once and have just a three-member committee of reputed former international cricketers," he said.

Current selector V. B. Chandrasekhar also supported Wright. "He (Wright) has the right to say what he has said. He has not named anyone and I think I would respect him for that," he told The Hindu.

The angry response from some former selectors, coaches and players cannot be completely dismissed as exaggerated, or futile attempts to cover up something everyone already knows.

While it may seem like they are only creating a fallacy, that whatever success the Indian teams encountered were because of the system, and not despite the system, questions do arise on the purpose and timing of Wright's revelations.

Why he did it now, long after he became free of the responsibilities of a coach, and not when he could have exercised some influence, however little (considering the coach and captain did not have a vote), does create an impression (right or wrong) that he is fully aware that nothing sells like controversy.

Does he really believe that his revelations at this point of time could actually make a difference to India's selection process? Or is he yet another outsider who fails to understand that favouritism, which plagues all selection processes in the world, just seems more severe in Indian cricket because of the sheer size, diversity and the tremendous passion with which the game is followed in the country?

There is no doubt that Wright has the right to express his opinions. Only reading the entire book and understanding the remarks with reference to the context can throw true light on the purpose behind them. If the intention is to make the right judgment, then the best thing to do will be to be neutral towards Wright till the book is wholly devoured.

But if the aim is to merely churn out another saga of controversy and indulge in the blame game, then reading the book will be of little relevance.