M S K Prasad and Co need a pat on the back, writes Ayaz Memon

India’s selectors have been facing some flak recently. Potshots have been taken at chief M S K Prasad and his four colleagues in the committee by sundry former players, some of them stellar names. I wonder why? 

India is No. 1 in Tests, No. 2 in ODIs and No. 5 in T20s. While the ranking in the shortest format could be better, everybody knows how volatile and topsy-turvy T20 can be. To pass verdict on selectors only on this would be not just flawed, but also terribly unfair.

The longer a match, the more logical - and fairer - can be the assessment of selectors, as it is of players. To get a better idea of how the selectors have fared, as indeed it is in the case of players and teams, it is imperative to study results in the other formats.

What do we find here? As mentioned earlier, India is not only ranked No. 1, but this has remained steadfast in this position over the past couple of years, dipping only a couple of times, very briefly, before regaining the top position. This stability reflects efficiency in the selection policy, too. Obviously, the choice of players can’t be static. It has necessarily to be dynamic. Some players excel, some flop, some suffer injury or illness, some are chosen for specific pitches or against particular opponents. Point is that the changes implemented have not dented the team’s winning momentum in Test cricket. Likewise, there has not been too much adverse movement in ODIs either. India has hovered between 1 and 3 in the rankings. 

True, not reaching the final of the World Cup was disappointing, and the need for a settled middle order was felt. But there too, after the original selection, replacements were chosen on the demand of the team management. If blame has to be apportioned, the team management must share it equally. It is not the fault of the selectors alone. Moreover, why India could not make it to the final in the World Cup had to do more with the failure of the top order in the semis against New Zealand, not selection.

It is pertinent to remember that India hadn’t lost a single match till that ill-fated encounter against the Kiwis. There were no complaints when the team was crushing strong opponents - South Africa, Australia, Pakistan - with ease. All of this actually redounds to the credit of the selectors and criticism seems harsh and misplaced. The primary credit for a team’s performance must obviously go to the players themselves. But unless the personnel was good enough, would the team have delivered is also relevant. 

Yes, some statements from chief selector Prasad in justifying the choices made by his committee were ill-advised and provoked avoidable controversy. For instance, after choosing the team for the West Indies series, Prasad announced that Rishabh Pant was the Number 1 choice wicket-keeper in all formats. As it happened, Pant lost his Test place to Wriddhiman Saha in the series against South Africa. Prasad later also proclaimed that the selectors had “moved on from Dhoni’’, which met with not just jibes from fans and aficionados, but also a rebuttal from chief coach Ravi Shastri.

Such impetuosity, however, does not mean failure of selection policy. The judgement of the selectors is easily ratified by results in Tests and ODIs. Why then the rancour against them? 

There are three aspects to this. One, criticism comes with the turf. And this is not peculiar to Indian cricket. All over the cricket world, selectors remain vulnerable. If the results are poor, selectors will get pilloried. If they are good, there is only grudging acknowledgment. It’s a thankless job in that sense, for everybody expects favourable results, irrespective of the talent and resources that shape it, in the system. This gets compounded if time-held views about selectors are not gratifying, as in India’s case.

Stories of selection shenanigans and scandals - fuelled by favouritism, regionalism and nepotism - abound in Indian cricket history. Mohinder Amaranth’s caustic outburst, calling them “jokers’’ (after being sidelined in late 1980s) became a defining characteristic of selectors.

But that is firmly in the past. While selectors are still drawn from different zones, the selection process has acquired far greater transparency (thanks to media vigilance too!) for old-style nepotism to thrive.

But India’s selectors now face censure for not having played enough cricket at the international level, as has happened with the present committee, comprising those with meagre or no international experience. This might seem like genuine complaint, but the issue is not plain vanilla as may seem. There is no doubt that having players with strong international experience and knowledge of the contemporary game would be advantageous. The problem is few such players are willing to do the job. Their opportunity cost is greater. What they might make as commentators, IPL coaches, endorsements etc is more than what selectors make. Those from the earlier generations are not seen as best suited for the modern game. This leaves those who are younger, but don’t have the experience at the top level. 

In this rigmarole, criticism comes easy, not the solution. But this should not obscure the effort put in by a selection committee which may not boast big names, but whose credentials are established by the team’s results.

M S K Prasad and Co need a pat on the back.

The writer is a senior journalist who has been writing on the sport for over 40 years.




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