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Selection Drama - Suresh Menon Column
by Suresh Menon
Nov 30, 2008
Every time the proceedings of the selection committee meetings are leaked to the media, someone suggests that they ought to be telecast live to pre-empt controversy. Although Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was being sarcastic when he said that the meetings might as well be telecast live since secrecy was observed only in the breach, the debate is gaining momentum. The only team selection meeting telecast live has been the IPL auction; it was fun but got boring quickly enough.

Within a very short time, the biases of the five-man selection committee are laid bare. Who gangs up with whom, how a 3-2 formation is achieved, which players are the favourites of the respective selectors are quickly noted by the media. Joining the dots is not rocket science, and while there may be the odd case of a selector from the east zone, for example, fighting for someone in the west zone, selections normally can be traced to geographical affinities. Such cross-zonal support can be put down to the you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours world of the national selectors.

Choosing a national side is not the most difficult job in the world. Anybody can get it about 80 percent right. And most can get the 14 or 15 right, only the playing eleven might need a decision between twiddledum and twiddledee, two players with roughly equal claims. Dhoni's argument for backing R P Singh over Irfan Pathan was not based on who was the better player, but on the conviction that the incumbent Singh deserved another chance to prove himself.

Selections are made on two obvious grounds - performance and form. There is a third too - potential. Our major spinners - from Chandrasekhar to Kumble and Piyush Chawla were teenagers when they were picked. Kumble was sent to England in 1990 on a hunch, after just a couple of first class games. When these hunches fail, selectors are pilloried; when they succeed, selectors are forgotten.

Those who look for transparency say if the proceedings of the Parliament can be telecast live - with its embarrassing behaviour of our elected representatives - then why not selection committee meetings? It will put an end to horse-trading say some, the public will know how decisions are made, and there will be controversy. Superficially this is a fine argument but it fails to take into account the fact that while the Parliament and its hundreds of parliamentarians deal with a large number of issues, the selection committee comprises five men with one single issue.

There is nothing to prevent the chairman having a working dinner at his house where the nitty gritty of selection is thrashed out, the deals are made so that selectors present a united face at the telecast meetings. In how many places are we to fix cameras to catch the selectors discussing selection?

In Greek drama, the unpleasant acts (killing, maiming and so on) take place backstage; it would be the same with selection meetings, with only what is palatable and accepted being displayed for the cameras.

Yet despite that, it might be fun to have the meetings telecast. At least it will tell us how the selectors do their home work, and just how much they know about the players around the country. When Maharashtra opener Riaz Poonawala was in the national reckoning, the then Board Secretary showed his frustration at a meeting by asking, "Okay, this man from Pune (Poonawala means the man from Pune), for god's sake who is he? Doesn't he have a name?" It is funnier in Hindi, but it makes the point, I think.

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