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July 22, 1998


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Caesar's wives....

Harsha Bhogle

The relationship between a selector and a cricketer is a bit like a fancy brochure and the guy who gets it in his hand.

You very rarely get what you see, and the truth is rather finely glossed over by a pretty facade. You might see them smile, for example, when their paths cross, most often the morning after an unpopular decision has been made, but you can recognise in it the overwhelming flavour of necessity rather than the more widely believed taste of respect.

The cricketer believes he is the dutiful daughter-in-law; meek, comely, right and yet always wrong. And the selector is the spitting incarnation of the hostile mother-in-law, prowling around for the scent of the inadequate and finding a flaw even in the most brilliant of successes.

The selectors say they are irritated, though I suspect they are secretly delighted, that cricketers who rarely acknowledged their presence now sidle up to them and ask for advice !

It is a relationship that is inevitable, and doomed, but unlike more modern marriages, the daughter-in-law here can never stay sufficiently out of reach of the mother-in-law. It remains a marriage of convenience, and there are more than just a few cricketers across the country who keep tabs on the tenure of particular selectors.

The way out, and I suspect we are talking about the mythical land where justice is admnistered fairly and without malice, is for selectors to be completely honest. And to be seen to be so. Their decisions, if they are wrong, have to be seen to be errors of judgement rather than proof that they were biased in the first place. I would go so far as to say that if there is a man who is a brilliant judge of the game but whose personal integrity is questionable, he should be kept away.

I also believe that just as there is a code of conduct for cricketers -- sometimes clearly written down, sometimes merely explained -- there should be one for selectors; especially now that the difference between being in the team and being left out has a huge financial implication.

In a scenario where a little favour done can lead to a very different looking bank account, it is imperative that the selectors be respected across the board. And that their fee should be a fair proportion of that of the men they pick.

At the moment, it is a bit like professors turning out students who will earn more than they do, within a year of passing out.

This code of conduct is absolutely vital because too often, selectors have tended to show an unusual sense of proximity to specific people in the media. That is fine if the relationship is genuine, but when one half of that liaison picks the team and the other half knows all about it well before it is announced, then you have to believe that there is no confidentiality left.

Also, a few selectors, over the years, have made it obvious that they are quite happy to talk about what happened behind doors that should be closed. I have experienced this myself. Without seeking out answers, I have sometimes been told who gunned for whom at the selection committee meeting.

It doesn’t help either that some selectors have been known to enjoy the pleasures of being intoxicated. This is a touchy issue, because a man’s relationship with his drink should be a purely personal matter. But when that love affair is out there in the open for all to see, and when it leads to embarassing situations, it is very difficult for him to maintain his stature among the people whose future he believes he controls.

It is not difficult to insist on honesty and transparency as being the two pillars of conduct for a selector. And that he has to sign a contract that makes it mandatory for him to be sacked in the event of inappropriate behaviour in public. This insistence would be the first step in earning respect among the players and maybe, in creating an informal, harmonious environment.

That isn't the case today, and one of the reasons is that selectors are allowed to wear two hats. There is a very basic problem here, which the Board is sleeping over, hoping that like a bad dream, it will end itself. Most of our selectors, over the years and now, are office-bearers in state associations as well. In that role, they have to promote the game in their area and the best way to do that is to ensure that cricketers from their region make the national team.

That is a very good and fair objective to have, except that they can then wear their selector’s hat and pick people from their region.

It is like a minister creating government policy to suit his personal interests. That is one of the reasons ministers are looked down upon by honest citizens. It is not difficult then, to see why selectors are not very popular people.

This dual responsibility has to go. And it has to go immediately. But I will be very surprised if it does, because the BCCI itself can find its existence convenient. What do they do, for example, if one of the selectors refuses to quit, and says that if he is forced to do so, he will then don his administrator’s hat and vote the other way at the annual election? What do they do if one of the administrators insists that in return for his vote, he is made a selector?

Invariably, they say yes. And so you see that the root of this evil situation lies in the very structure of the BCCI; in its complete and wholehearted surrender to the ‘vote culture'.

Tragically, this can create divisions within a cricket team where some people believe they have fought their way in on the basis of their performances, while being convinced that some others have had an easier route. It is not easy for the 'privileged' cricketer as well, who probably finds himself in the reserves all the time because the team management does not share the confidence of the selectors. Such cricketers get branded as “quota cases", and I have seen a couple of them suffer greatly because of this.

No one suffered more than Sourav Ganguly, who was picked for the tour of Australia in 1991-'92, and suffered such a huge backlash that it took him four years to fight his way back. And already, it seems that Gagan Khoda will be similarly categorised.

I believe that Khoda was extremely lucky to be picked ahead of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman for the tour to Sri Lanka. Now, the only way that question can be resolved is if Khoda actually plays for India. If he doesn’t, he will continue to stay in the reserves and that, I am afraid, will do neither Khoda nor anyone else any good. But in the current team structure, given that he is an opening batsman and given the kind of matches that are coming up, that prospect of Khoda making the eleven looks bleak, and the selectors will now have to decide what is best for him.

India’s next tournament is the Sahara Cup in early September. That is an event that arouses passions like no other, and both teams are very conscious of being at full strength in every game there. In such a situation, it seems likely that Khoda, who should strictly speaking be selected since he has done nothing to harm his case, will sit out again. And so, we will be no closer to finding a solution at the start of a very important cricket season.

It might be a better idea then, to send him to the Commonwealth Games where he can be assured of three starts against pretty good opposition, and where he can build up a case to show people that he is in on merit. It is vital that he gets a game because, in some ways, his situation is a most uncomfortable one and the only way he can rid himself of the “quota” tag is to score runs.

In the past, Indian cricket has had a few cricketers who were quite happy being on planes and in hotels and who were not particularly keen to prove themselves at the highest level. Their careers did not last too long, and if Gagan Khoda wants to be different, he has to take a different route.

If I was him, I would be desperate to play and I would fancy my chances more in Kuala Lumpur than in Toronto. The only way to shake off a tag is to score runs and you can’t do that in a dressing room. And when you score runs, like Ganguly did, you can tell the world that you will be picked, irrespective of the composition of the selection committee.

To score runs is also the best way to promote cricket in your region.

Harsha Bhogle

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