If BCCI’s invitation of applications for men’s senior selectors looked like a step forward after the disappointing show at two T20 World Cups and Asia Cup 2022, the likely decision to retain faces from the old panel is definitely two steps back and begs us to question whether Indian cricket is ready to bring in fresh energy.
After the semi-final defeat to England at 2022 T20 World Cup, heads were expected to roll in the Indian cricket set-up and selectors became the first casualty. A sense of urgency to steer the ship in the right direction ahead of two World Cups – 50-over WC in 2023 and 20-over WC in 2024 – was need of the hour and strong decisions were needed to restore order. Selection matters, which had coped a lot of flak in the last 24 months, were a concern and needed immediate attention. Attention was paid but the entire exercise now wears a pointless look with Chetan Sharma, chairman of the previous selection panel, and Harvinder Singh set to feature in the new panel.
“Not good for Indian cricket,” was the short and strong-worded response from a former Indian cricketer, who had also applied for the selector’s job, to reports of Chetan and Harvinder featuring in the new selection panel.
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If the top brass was satisfied with the performance of Chetan and Harvinder, why were fresh applications invited in the first place? Or is the Indian cricket board not ready to inject fresh energy, which is need of the hour, yet?
Same old story?
In the last 24 months, India have managed to field two sides for different formats parallelly, have dominated bilaterals – home and away – but struggled to put together a winning squad for multi-nation events like the T20 World Cup and Asia Cup. The real Test is yet to happen in the upcoming Border Gavaskar Trophy against Australia as the current regime hasn’t had many challenging away assignments, unlike their predecessors.
If the dotted lines are signed on the panel doing rounds, the next 24 months are expected to be no different and we could well have faces who picked the 2021, 2022 WC sides picking the squads for the upcoming 50-over and 2024 World Cup. Very little had changed from the team which played the 2021 World Cup to the one which exited the 2022 World Cup in the semis stage. The safe approach, right from the top three to the composition of the squad, was very much visible and reputation preceded performance.
Not to forget the manner in which the Virat Kohli captaincy episode unfolded.
If Hardik Pandya is going to lead the T20I side and Rohit Sharma will be in charge of the Test and ODI set-up, why was a similar arrangement shot down when Kohli wanted to continue as ODI and Test captain after giving up T20I captaincy? Yes, it was difficult to ignore Rohit Sharma’s exploits as captain of Mumbai Indians but Kohli giving up Test captaincy was the biggest loss to Indian cricket in the last couple of years. And the BCCI could well find itself in a tough situation when they look for Rohit’s successor in the longest format of the game.
The Big Picture
It’s not just the World Cups or the World Test Championship but the direction in which Indian cricket is headed at the moment. Has the Cricket Advisory Committee addressed the big picture? Whether the transition to the next-gen would be seamless with the old faces? Whether the newer faces would be able to address the numerous elephants in the room?
The members of the CAC, when reached out, were not willing to comment on the developments till the official announcement is made. When contacted, Jatin Paranjpe, member of the CAC, said he will not be able to comment on the matter or the interview process.
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Remuneration not enough to entice the big names?
Over the years, there have been talks of the selectors not having the stature to put up a strong front in front of the team management on selection matters. A top official of the board, however, didn’t agree with the whole stature debate and felt someone like Chetan has played and seen enough cricket.
“Chetan Sharma doesn’t have stature? He has played over 20 (23) Tests, 60 (65) ODIs and over 100 (121) First Class games. He doesn’t have stature?” a top BCCI official said.
The board, however, has to fall back on the older generation because of the late retirements announced by many players who haven’t played for India in a long time but announced retirement very recently.
“We are helpless there. Someone like RP Singh and Pragyan Ojha last played for India years back but announced their retirement very recently. Even if we want to consider them, we won’t be able to,” the official added.
Additionally, many of the established faces are either contracted by IPL teams, who are paying them a handsome salary, or are making a lot of money with commentary gigs. So is the BCCI remuneration package enticing enough to have these former cricketers on board?
“I have applied but would need to see what they offer if I am interviewed. I am doing a lot of commentary and 2.5-3K USD is the standard market rate per match at the moment. So to let that go for selector job, there has to be enough on the table,” a former India cricketer and now a famous commentator had said.
The current IPL set-up too has made life difficult for the Indian cricket board as the teams are ready to shed top dollar for the best available resources. For instance, the talent scouts and coaches are paid sums similar to what an Indian selector would get and the IPL stint allows them to retain their television gigs.
“Money is there in the IPL contracts but there is also a sense of flexibility to what we can pursue outside of it,” said a former cricketer.
Specialist approach for T20s
It’s going to be the same old story if the T20 format is not treated exclusively, as a different beast. Cricketing ecosystem continues to evolve around the world and the impact of the shortest format is having its say even on the way Test cricket is being played at the moment.
There is definitely a need to address the format exclusively, and differently. The state-fed selection panel could continue to meet the demands of 50-over and Test format but T20s need a different approach. Maybe draw a leaf out of IPL’s playbook and how the scout machinery operates for the cash-rich league and continues to unearth talents from the remotest corners of the country.
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In a format which allows very little recovery or comeback time, coaching is extremely irrelevant. A man-managing approach is what the format demands. Something which the IPL has tabled for the world to see. With so many fixtures happening around the country, the role of data, analytics and numbers outweighs the traditional mindset and approach.
The next 24 months are very important for Indian cricket with a packed calendar, across formats. From captaincy to selection, clear calls are needed to ensure seamless transition and domination at multi-nation events. The selector shuffle has raised more questions than answers, and the reluctance to inject fresh energy is very much visible.
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