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Rebel with a cause

Harsha Bhogle

The overwhelming emotion in Indian cricket just now is one of mistrust.

The captain clearly doesn't trust the selectors; I suspect the selectors do not trust each other very much, and the manager doesn't trust two of his seniormost players. For the start of a season, that is a pretty chaotic scenario. For a team that is losing its popularity and more importantly, its credibility, it is a terrible state of affairs.

One of the reasons the key actors in this critical drama are not pulling in the same direction is that they are probably looking at things from different perspectives. The captain is looking to enforce his authority; something that has been severely dented by a very public statement that implies his performance hasn't been appreciated. And the selectors have two masters. They have , in theory, to pick the team they believe is best suited to represent the country, but they also have to satisfy the people who appointed them in the first place - namely, the zonal administrators. As a result, a regional bias is inherent in our selection procedure and selectors have to be looking at players from particular regions.

As we all know, the two don't always gel.

Tendulkar's frustration is understandable because he has to have players that he believes can deliver. If a major is leading a regiment to war, he has to be absolutely certain that his soldiers are firing in the direction he wants them to. And that can only happen if he was complete confidence in his regiment. If he feels his best marksmen are being left behind, or even if some of them are, he is bound to feel handicapped.

That is why a captain, unless he is being completely unreasonable, should normally get the team he wants. If a batsman is scoring a lot of runs and the captain cannot offer a convincing enough reason to ask him to be left out, he should clearly be over-ruled. But there are often considerations that the selectors are not aware of and which are very critical.

Ian Chappell wrote recently on captaincy in the Wisden Cricket Monthly, one of the most sensible articles I have read for a very very long time, and he said, "A captain demands 100 per cent from his players when they're out on the field, therefore he should return the compliment when it comes to the players' off-field needs. If a captain has asked one of his players to go out and play a few shots because the situation demands it, the player must have complete confidence in his captain's ability to stick with him in case he fails. Otherwise a captain cannot expect, and indeed should not expect, his players to play their hearts out."

Now Tendulkar has been put into a situation where, if he goes up to say Robin Singh and says, "I want 25 in 10 balls, so go for it," he cannot guarantee that if Robin fails he will continue to get a place in the side. In this theoretical situation, Robin Singh has probably sacrificed his wicket for the team's cause. If he is then dropped, another player will say `Hang on, let me get runs for myself first'. Can you, for example, fault Nayan Mongia now if he hangs around to score a few runs because the selectors believe he is not good enough to score them?

Having said that, it is very unlike Tendulkar to erupt and to have a go at anybody. I have known him for a long time and have always found that he has fewer words than shots. That is how I believe every cricketer should be. If you speak with the bat or the ball, you don't need to speak with the lips.

And yet Tendulkar apparently has. This is an aggressive and cornered individual talking, not the balanced young man we have all known. It is a terribly sad state of affairs, and one that could easily have been avoided if everyone had the same goal ahead of them. It was, for example, obvious to everyone that there was no alternative to Tendulkar for the job of captain of India. The easiest thing to have done in such a situation was to speak to him in private and to tell him that he needed to do better. By announcing it, and by not giving him the team he wants, they have pinned one arm behind him.

All successful organisations, and therefore teams, run on effective man-management. A happy man is more likely to do well. An angry, disgruntled rebel will never put team needs above his own. What we have done in the last two weeks is to ensure that the captain, and not a minor actor, becomes the rebel.

You cannot clip a bird's wings and still expect it to fly high.

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