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Return to the Nineties! - Chetan Narula Column
by Chetan Narula
Feb 04, 2009
Without a semblance of doubt, the nineties were the worst phase for Indian cricket. It was a time when the selectors really didn't know where the team was headed, the captain couldn't really answer the simplest of questions put to him and entry to the team was a revolving door, with umpteen players coming in and going out without any fingers pointed. It is a matter of fact that Mohd. Azhar holds the record for being the Indian captain under whom maximum players made their India debut.

The trend didn't buck under Sachin Tendulkar, who brought his Marathi-connect into the selection committee meetings. It is no secret that Ajit Agarkar, Abey Kuruvilla, Wasim Jaffer and Sameer Dighe owe him their India caps. And this is just two captains we are talking about, under whom India, for a small matter of a decade, reeled under dubious selections. However, if you beat around the bush a bit more, one will surely find out the real culprits of this revolving door policy based on regionalism, the selectors.

The turn of the millennium, meant that under the watchful eyes of Saurav Ganguly, Indian cricket was turning over a new page. Selections to the national team became a bit more consistent as Dada went about building a good base for the team to progress on. Youngsters came in, free of the regional bias and purely on merit, giving the well set seniors a harmonious mix of youthful energy and experience to work with.

This however doesn't mean that the Bengal Tiger didn't have his favourites. Ask Aakash Chopra and Murali Karthik about it and they will probably break down at the unfairness of it all, while at the same time, Saba Karim and Deep Das Gupta will probably be proudly nostalgic. But there's a bit of heartfelt understanding that goes out to Dada's actions here; he could never ever have forgiven himself if he had chosen a Chopra over Yuvraj Singh or a Karthik over Harbhajan Singh.

And to be really fair, the two Bengali wicket-keepers were there, for Ganguly could never really find a good stumper in his reign. So much so, one is sure if Azhar holds the record for trying out maximum debtants, Ganguly probably tried out maximum number of keepers. Poor chap even had Rahul Dravid keeping wickets for a long time to find the necessary team balance.

Talk about Dravid and you will realize that for the first time probably, Indian cricket wasn't run on whimsical fancies of a few men based on what part of the country they belonged to, or in fact the players themselves belonged to. Come to think of it, under Dravid, probably the two south based players to come in and make a real mark were Sreesanth and Robin Uthappa, both now out due to issues completely different from zonal bias. And one can't just credit the captain here for he works in tandem with the selectors, so Dilip Vengsarkar and to an extent Kiran More - despite his vendetta against Ganguly, which was more personal one thinks - did creditable work during their time in charge. What's ironic, and funny, then, is the fact that Dravid eventually quit captaincy because of differences with the selectors' chief. And the issue created cost Vengsarkar too as he found himself out within a year.

That particular mess had in fact set off a chain of events as a result of which we see Kris Srikkanth today as the chairman of selectors. The BCCI, for the first time in its history, went in for paid selectors, in a bid to professionalize the whole process and bring in a bit more credibility at the same time.

And they started off well, sorting out the Ganguly-mess and dealing with it the way it should have been. Dada's fabulous response with the bat against Australia only backed the decision taken by the new 'five wise men' and the subsequent crushing of England in the ODI series meant it was a happy time for team India, progressing quite rapidly under captain MS Dhoni.

Until RP Singh bowled them all out! The left-arm bowler from UP doesn't really bowl that well in home conditions and it was surprising to see the way Dhoni behaved just because the player concerned is a good friend of his. All of a sudden, one's mind was full of flashbacks from the nineties.

But what actually turned the clocks back to the dark days was the fact that one of the selectors blew the trumpet in the media. Dhoni on his part had kept quite which was commendable, so what was the need for this 'breaking news', when things seemed to be going right for a change? It almost seems that Indian cricket is not blessed enough!

Considering that the news first broke in Anand Bazar Patrika, it is hard not to fathom the selector belonged to which zone. And then there was the icing on the cake: Srikkanth, and the BCCI, telling Dhoni that he would have to make do with the teams that they give him. Really now? For the last time one checked, it was actually Dhoni who had kick started this run to the top, the number one pedestal and as always the selectors have just hogged the limelight off the field.

The selection satire couldn't have been worse. The Board selects them to help build a more answerable selection process and sitting at the perch is a man who has made some dubious decisions in the last five months. And one is forced to reflect on them with a raised eyebrow for, sitting at the top, he has made no secret of the fact that Srikkanth patronizes a 'South Indian' flavor in cricket!

For how else do you explain the decisions he has stamped in the little time he has been chief selector? Take them one by one. When Gautam Gambhir was banned for the Nagpur test, almost all openers in the country were expecting a call-up for this one off match, especially the one who topped the run charts last year. With more than 1600 runs in 2007-08, this was the moment that Aakash Chopra could have played for India just one more time, but nope!

It is not a question of Chopra making it to the team, but of M Vijay. From where on earth did he come into the picture, then to the test team and the ODI team? Yes, he did score a century on the first day of the 2009 Ranji competition but so did his opening partner, Abhinav Mukund. Oh wait, he isn't from Tamil Nadu!

That is, yes, a serious charge but then there is more proof. When the central contracts were announced, R Aswhin made it to the Grade D lists. For the unknown, he is a 20 year old Tamil Nadu player who made his debut in 2006, and yeah, he bats and bowls a bit. If this selection was not based on the simple fact that he was in the Chennai Super Kings team of which Srikkanth is an advertiser, then why wasn't this particular contract given to Ajinkya Rahane or Cheteshwara Pujara, or an all rounder Abhishek Nayyar if you please!

Ever since L Balaji took a few wickets in the Ranji competition, there was this joke doing rounds that he will soon be back in the Indian team. And just see how well that worked out. Yes, he has made a fantastic comeback from injury two years ago and took a hat trick in the IPL too. But to be really honest, if team India selections were only on merit, Dhawal Kulkarni would have boarded the flight to Sri Lanka after scalping the highest 42 wickets in the same Ranji tournament. And oh, by the way, even Boycott's 'mum' would have taken a better hat-trick, Bala!

So, if this is the way things (read selections) are going to pass on now, then for the next four years that Srikkanth is slated to be chief of selectors, team India can slowly, but surely, only go down south.

(The columnist is a sports writer based in New Delhi, India.)
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