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By Sunil Gavaskar
Three of the most thankless jobs in the game of cricket are 1] umpiring 2] wicket keeping and 3] selection, and not necessarily in that order. The recent selection of the Indian team brought to the fore how a selector is never in a win-win situation but invariably is in a loose-loose position. No matter what the team selected, there will always be a section that will feel aggrieved over the choice of a player or the omission of another. India follows the game with a passion that is sometimes overpowering and bewildering among other things. It is a country where anybody and everybody is an expert and feels only he or she has the genuine interest of Indian cricket at heart, while everybody else has a vested interest or agendas of their own.
It does not matter then if those who have played the game at the highest level are the ones who are making the selection of the team. That player turned selector's performance and record is forgotten and it will be made out as if he has been influenced or worse still bought off. That he may have been part of a team that brought glory to India with his deeds is not remembered, as allegations of bias will be leveled against him no matter that he may have been the only one in the selection panel who has done his homework and given great thought to the need of the hour, to the future and the balance of the team. He will be painted with the same brush as the others. There is no question that one has to have the skin of a rhinoceros if one wants to be an Indian cricket team selector.
The other thankless job is that of the wicket keeper. He has to, on an average in a Test match day, keep wickets to 540 balls and more if there are no balls and wides bowled too. If out of all these deliveries if there is one catch that he misses or one stumping that he fails to do then he is on a hiding to nothing. He will be pilloried for that and forgotten will be his dives and saves and collection of wild throws from the deep from strong arms.
Nobody will think of the battering his fingers receive from the constant pounding of the ball thudding into his gloves, and a lot of times quite unnecessarily thrown at him. Just one drop, one miss and he will be blamed for the team’s misfortunes. It is the hardest job in the world as he has to crouch and get up for all these deliveries, run towards the stumps even if the throw is not coming to his end and also has to be the cheerleader for the team with his constant encouragement of the bowlers and fielders. Other fielders can take it easy especially if they are in the deep but not for him a moment's relaxation, and when everybody else is tired and looking forward to the end of the days play, is when he has to be at his most attentive because cricket has shown us that it is mostly at that time that an opportunity comes his way. He covers more ground in a day than anyone else does, but hardly ever gets the credit that he deserves.
The third job in cricket which is a totally thankless one is that of an umpire. Pretty much like the wicketkeeper he has to make just one mistake and he becomes the villain of the side that got the wrong decision and their followers. The umpire’s job starts well before the first ball is bowled with making sure that the rolling of the pitch takes place and to ensure that nobody is trying to do any damage to the pitch by patting the bat or bouncing a ball. He has to also ensure when play starts on day two that the right batsman is taking the first ball, and the bowler who bowled the final over of the previous day doesn’t bowl the first over. Lot of people think that it cannot happen, but believe me even in Test cricket it has happened but luckily noticed in time. He needs to be fit too though not half as fit as football referees since he has to run a fair bit trying to get into the correct position to judge a run out. He has to have immense powers of concentration since he cannot afford to lose focus even for a second while on the field. It is an immensely taxing job physically and mentally and unlike the players and the selectors it is not as remunerative as it should be. Still those who love the game even if they could not play it are the ones who opt for the job and make a contribution to the game.
So what then is the most paying job in the game? Without a doubt it is to cover the game be it for the print media or the electronic media. Travel around the world or even in one’s own country, staying in good if not the best of hotels, sitting in air conditioned boxes, moving around without having to watch every ball, having endless cups of tea or coffee and discussions with fellow media persons, questioning anything and everything and if one is a former cricketer forgetting what errors one has committed in playing days and as time goes on becoming an even better player than one was during playing days and guess what, all this at some else's expense. Yes sir, that is the job to have in cricket.