Sharad Pawar has his job cut out

Sharad Pawar (below, seen with Ganguly) solved a lot of cricketing problems in Mumbai by appointing a Cricket Improvement Committee (CIC). One expects him to appoint a similar committee now in the BCCI, which can make the Indian selection syst em more meaningful.

INDIAN cricket is in a terrible mess. The exclusion of Sourav Ganguly against the Sri Lankans encouraged people to indulge in cricket politics. Whether the decision to exclude Ganguly was right or wrong is for the selectors to decide, but one saw hardly any cricket logic in the protests. Protestors are ranting that Ganguly's exclusion was unfair, performance-wise, but the truth is obvious to anyone watching a match. Cricket is a team-game. If you put in less than your all, then it should not be a shock when you are not in at all.

In India, cricket is a religion and obviously cricket fans are emotional and sentimental. But it has been sad to see Bengal turning against the national team for the sake of parochialism. It is sad and ridiculous. What Bengal has been doing was never expected from them. Just because Ganguly is `their own', they turned on the Indian team. It had nothing to do with whether he deserved to be dropped or not, merely to do with the fact that he was a Bengal player. Did people in Kolkata protest en masse when Laxman was dropped for the World Cup? No one protested in Mumbai when Gavaskar was dropped by Borde's selection committee in 1986.

What worries me is the reaction of former India cricketers on some television channels. Not only are they illogical, they have been stridently definite and have been misleading the masses about selections. Fed up of constant unfair criticism, one of the selectors, Ranjib Biswal, has decided to file a defamation case against Siddhu.

There is one point that is common in all the criticism and that is the need to change the selection policy. One school of thought feels that the BCCI should have a three-member selection committee, and the other feels that in the current five-member selection committee there should be cricketers who have played at least 20 Tests. Further, some feel that the selectors should be paid a monthly salary.

The BCCI did appoint a nine-member committee in 1997 to discuss and suggest the formation of a three-member selection committee. The committee suggested that the BCCI should have a three-member selection committee but, though all the nine members were part of the BCCI's Working Committee, none of them asked for the change. This is cricket politics. Today the same members are asking for a change.

I am not convinced about the 20 Test matches criteria. A couple of years back, a selector who played more than 50 Tests and was the Chairman of the state's selection committee couldn't recognise a main player of his state team. He told the player to send a certain player to him to be reprimanded, and the player had to inform the selector that he himself was that player.

Some years back, the Chairman of the Selection Committee of another state rebuked a player for not taking wickets in the last few matches. The player had to inform him that he had not been selected for those matches.

In Mumbai, when the selection committee was entirely made up of top former Test players and one of them was a former India captain, a player was dropped because one of the selectors said the player was 38 years old and not 22. It was when the player, traumatized by the asinine and groundless reason for his career being halted, was taken to a psychiatrist, that they realised their mistake.

I had the opportunity to interact with many selectors for more than three decades and the ones who hadn't played many Tests or even one Test had as much or more good convincing cricketing logic as former Test players. Mamasaheb Ghorpade was a shrewd judge of the players.

One would always see him sitting in the sun at square leg boundary to analyse players' bowling action. Ghorpade loved watching the players in the nets.

Dattu Phadkar would ask senior journalists about the players they were impressed with in domestic cricket. He too would watch the players in action in the nets. There was no television then for watching the action in slow motion. Nets would give them a chance to watch the technique of the players. Then there was Major Jagdale, Sanjay Jagdale's father who played for the Holkars. A keen student of the game, he would spend hours discussing with the players.

The problem with cricketers who have played many Tests is either they set an unrealistic standard or are not keen students of the game. Most of them are highly opinionated.

Once they form an opinion about a particular player, they rarely change. Some of them try to settle personal scores.

There is nothing wrong with the present system of appointing selectors. The zonal cricket system is the base of Indian cricket. How can a three-member selection committee cover all the five zones when 207 senior matches are played in five months? If a zonal selector is given the option of appointing three assistant selectors per zone, possibly things will improve. But appointing Test players who have played minimum 20 Tests is not an ideal solution.

Sharad Pawar is a shrewd administrator who solved a lot of cricketing problems in Mumbai by appointing a Cricket Improvement Committee (CIC). The elected members of the Managing Committee were only asked to implement the policies of the CIC. One expects him to appoint a similar committee now in the BCCI, which can make the Indian selection system more meaningful.