Indian Cricket Team’s selection process- (Un)Fair and (Un)Just?

Indian Cricket Team’s selection process- (Un)Fair and (Un)Just?

Has the time arrived for the BCCI to make the selection process more transparent?

Jalaj Saxena (Photo Source: Twitter)

It must not be easy being Jalaj Saxena, who plays for Kerala in the domestic circuit. Formally recognized by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) as the best all-rounder for three consecutive years, Saxena now holds a distinction that is unique in the cricketing world- he is one of the only five players globally to have scored more than 3000 runs and 150 wickets across all competitions since August 2014. Yet, astoundingly, he fails to even make the cut for the second-string side (India A) announced for the recent tour to New Zealand.

What must be even more confusing and upsetting is the ambiguity of his position. There is no communication from the selection committee entrusted with the task of picking players for the A team as well as the national team on what he needs to do in order to fulfil a dream he keeps expecting will be realized every day he wakes up.

Saxena has done everything he could at every step- he is, after all, the highest wicket-taker for the past five years in the Ranji Trophy, India’s premier domestic competition. Left high and dry, the only option for him now is to keep delivering performances, hoping that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

The need for Transparency in selection

MSK Prasad
MSK Prasad. (Photo Source: Twitter)

The Kerala lad though, is not alone, for many before him and alongside him continue to suffer in the system that is Indian cricket team’s selection, as accountability and transparency are two words difficult to be associated with it. Over the years, accusations have been levelled at it ranging from being biased towards certain influential zones and teams to that of bribery.

Elaborate discussions on forums and social media today try to dig out the reasons for exclusions and omissions of very many players- past and present. A multitude of theories are proposed- some plausible, some absurd- to explain the scenarios. All of it, be it the controversies, the accusations, or the speculations, ultimately spring from one thing- there has been and continues to be, a fundamental gaping lack of clarity on how the Indian cricket selection committee does its job.

The dynamics of how this black box- where names of all domestic players come in and a few chosen ones come out, the process by which it all happens, is totally unclear. Unless this is made apparent, how can it be ascertained that the selectors even pay weightage to the performances of, let us say someone like Saxena? There is no way to know for a player performing in the domestic circuit at what stage he is in the national scheme of things, given the closed nature of the process.

There are voices, though, that feel this scrutiny is overt and unfair, that the selection committee ought to continue with the manner in which it has functioned- discreetly and secretly, for there will be some winners and some losers after all. Hasn’t this system fetched us a Rahul Dravid, they ask, a player unearthed and given chances despite his traditional and non-flamboyant approach? Or a Sourav Ganguly and a Mahendra Singh Dhoni, picked from relatively unknown provinces in Indian cricket at that point?

Domestic performers who never got their due

Faiz Fazal
Faiz Fazal. (Photo Source: Twitter)

However, for every Rahul Dravid, we have the likes of Amarjeet Kaypee and Devendra Bundela, who failed to get the nod despite toiling on and on for years for that elusive call-up. For every Sourav Ganguly selected on the basis of promise shown, there is an Amol Muzumdar sidelined despite scoring more number of runs in the Duleep Trophy that season, performance in which was the basis for the selection of the left-hander.

For every Mahendra Singh Dhoni given a comparatively long rope to take his chances, there are the likes of Faiz Fazal, who, despite seizing whatever odd chances they were handed, were inexplicably dropped to never be picked again. Most importantly, though, just like Saxena, the ones sidelined never came to know what was expected of them or what mistakes they had committed to end up on the wrong side. Many of them, retired now, still wonder what they lacked.

The criticality of providing accountability and transparency to the process became very much apparent during the tenure of the outgoing selection committee. While MSK Prasad, Chairman of the committee, often took responsibility and spoke of clear communication lines with the players, there were plenty of many reasons to be sceptical of the same.

The Karun Nair fiasco

Karun Nair
Karun Nair. (Photo Source: Twitter)

Take, for example, Karun Nair’s case. Nair had been a part of the touring Indian test side to England and did not get to play a single game, with Hanuma Vihari flown in midway through the series and chosen over him. What was amusing, though, was that he was dropped altogether for the subsequent series against the West Indies.

The allegations were rife that this was the handiwork of the team management- captain and coach- who did not want Nair around. However, captain Virat Kohli distanced himself from the whole affair and pushed the ball into selectors’ court clearly stating that player selection was not his area of operation. While Nair claimed that there was no communication about his omission from the selectors, the committee claimed otherwise.

A replica of the scenario was repeated with the now settled Mayank Agarwal. Despite piling runs and breaking domestic records, Agarwal was kept away from the national team. Called up finally for the West Indies Test series, where he did not play a game, he was omitted from the team for the tour of Australia. Mercifully for Agarwal, an unfortunate injury to Prithvi Shaw, meant that the selectors had no option but to call him up as a replacement.

If not for it, perhaps, Agarwal would have had to go back to the domestic grind again, wondering what more he could do to make a place for himself, if the pile of runs by itself wasn’t enough, especially at a time the options tried in his place had failed to get going. What reflects very much in both sets of incidents is the absence of reliability in the entire process- how does the selection committee decide that a certain Khaleel Ahmed gets fast-tracked to the Indian team in 2018 whereas the second-highest run-getter as well as the highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy that season do not even get an India A call-up or any feedback as to where they stand?

Continued disappointment among a lot of domestic cricketers over non-selection

Sheldon Jackson
Sheldon Jackson. (Photo Source: Instagram)

The current generation of active cricketers, however, have been far more vocal about the arbitrariness of it all than their predecessors, embracing the risk it poses to their careers. Sheldon Jackson, who scored 854 runs in the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy for Saurashtra team, was not anywhere near the fringes of either the national side or the A team, took to Twitter questioning the lack of transparency in the selection criteria- where did he or his Saurashtra teammates fall short to not get a place in either of the teams?  Were they to retire wondering, he asked, before calling for transparency in the process.

Manoj Tiwary, another performer in the domestic circuit and who has been vocal in his criticism of the opaqueness of the selection process before, seconded Jackson’s opinion in his Twitter reply. Faiz Fazal’s Vidarbha had defeated Jackson’s Saurashtra twice in the finals of Ranji Trophy and he, too, left a sarcastic tweet on the selection process after seeing hardly any names from his side. Saxena, too, had been critical of the selection process a year ago.

The fundamental problem, then, lies with the selection process rather than the committees that have come and gone, as it does not define the criteria by which it arrives at the output- the selected players. And this is where, a great injustice is meted out to the cricketers who play the sport, for unless the process by which the names are selected is known, many more will retire from the game without having obtained even an answer to what more they could have done to get something they truly wanted and more importantly, felt they deserved.

It is high time now that BCCI takes steps to ensure transparency in the selection process so that the controversies and conjectures related to selection are put to an end. Actions such as making the minutes of the selection meetings available to state associations and thereby to the players, periodic meetings of selectors with domestic players (such as each selector having to mandatorily talk to consistent performers from a particular zone), conveying in a detailed press release the criteria on which selection is made, can go a long way in opening up the black-box and bringing clarity about the process.

This is very much owed, just as the BCCI recently undertook revision in its monetary benefits provided to ex-cricketers after realizing it was high time, to those who make it the sport it is in this country- the cricketers so that the field truly becomes a fair and level-playing one in terms of selection to the national team.

~Written by Dr. Rohit Prabhudesai