In 1989, 5 gentlemen sat huddled in a meeting room at Bombay, deciding on the fate of a 16-year-old boy, who had burst on the scene, since an explosive Ranji Trophy debut the year before. While he clearly seemed to be a genius in making, two of them were doubtful – will he be able to tackle the pace of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis? Or for that matter, the guile of Abdul Qadir?
The others argued that he had the technique, and given his age, he will be able to serve the country longer. Ultimately it was 3-2 in favour of the boy.
The men who gifted SRT to the world
One of them, Akash Lal has gone on record saying that he was one of three selectors who voted in favour of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Naren Tamhane’s famous response to the others during that historic meeting – “Gentlemen, Sachin Tendulkar never fails!” – is probably proof enough that he too was on Sachin’s side.
And it is a well-known fact that the legendary Raj Singh Dungarpur was the one who had proposed Sachin’s name in the first place. The selectors had collectively decided that they would send Sachin to Pakistan if he got a century in the upcoming Irani Trophy match against Delhi. In the 2nd innings, with Rest of India 9 wickets down and Sachin on 83, it was Dungarpur who urged Gursharan Singh with a fractured hand to join him, so that he could score that all important century. The rest, as they say, is history.
Needless to say, it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that the two selectors who were doubtful of giving Sachin the national cap were Gundappa Vishwanath and Ramesh Saxena. Lal and Dungarpur never represented India. Tamhane kept wickets for India in 21 Tests. On the other hand, between Vishwanath and Saxena (who played a solitary Test), 92 Tests were played.
Is international pedigree required to make a selector? Well, at least in this case, clearly not.
The men behind the 1983 Cup
Cut to another set of 5 gentlemen, who took the rather unorthodox step to rest regular captain Sunil Gavaskar, and hand over the reins to 24-year-old Kapil Dev for the 1983 World Cup. Ghulam Ahmed, Chandu Borde, Pankaj Roy, Chandu Sarwate and Bishen Singh Bedi were the selectors responsible for hand-picking the team which brought home India’s first World Cup.
Accomplished players apart, the cumulative international experience was vast - between them, they had played 196 Tests. Confused? So am I. In this case, clearly international experience seemed to dominate.
What’s the missing link?
If we delve deeper into numbers we will find, that the ONE thing which bound all these gentlemen together, is that they played a LOT of domestic first-class cricket. If we exclude the number of test matches they were involved with, the average number of first class matches played at the domestic level by these 10 selectors touch 150.
Just to give you a perspective, only Sunil Gavaskar, Vijay Hazare, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and Polly Umrigar have played more at the domestic level. Sachin, Dravid, VVS, Azharuddin don’t feature in this league, just so you know how much these 10 selectors fare against the superstars of Indian Cricket.
What it means is that each of these gentlemen who went on to become selectors and made some really good decisions, played a lot of cricket at all corners of the country. Naturally, they were exposed to a lot more talent at the grassroots, compared to their compatriots engaged in national duty.
They probably understood the challenges and pain-points of a cricketer trying to break through the ranks and thus seemed to be relatively more equipped to evaluate a player and take the call on his future. Clear enough right? If yes, why this hue and cry over the latest incumbents of one of the most important committees in our country today?
The mysterious case of the current selection team
Well, there is probably one justifiable reason – this time, the cumulative international experience has hit an all-time low. With just 44 international appearances between them comprising 31 ODIs and 13 Tests – MSK Prasad, Devang Gandhi, Gagan Khoda, Sarandeep Singh and Jatin Paranjpe sure do cut a sorry figure.
Once that figure stares at the face, people tend to overlook the fact that they have also played, on an average, about 90 domestic first class matches.
In a country where cricket is religion and Sachin is God, we all claim to be the high priest. We seem to possess an innate ability to predict the right combination for a Test series Down-under; we seem to just know who or what is absolutely not going to work out in the T20 format; we seem to even predict the bleak future of Indian cricket, based on the expertise of these 5 gentlemen in question.
What matters to us are the results, the trophies, the victories. The success or failure of these 5 cricketers turned selectors will solely hinge on how many moments of despair or joy they gift us.