The Indian Team’s selection process requires urgent attention

The Indian Team’s selection process requires urgent attention

In the last three years, only Hanuma Vihari can be said to have made it to the national team on the basis of domestic performances.

Thangarasu Natarajan
Team India. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

A 36-year old making his international debut or a 35-year old making a comeback to the national team after a gap of over 5 years since he last played an international game, both are unique but welcome incidents that have happened in the space of little over a year in Pakistani cricket. However, similar scenarios in an Indian context- perhaps Ambati Rayudu or Suresh Raina making a comeback/Jalaj Saxena or Sheldon Jackson making their debut- would reflexively be dismissed by those conversant with the Indian cricketing scene as too fantastic.

This isn’t a mere insinuation; Indian cricketers know that age is a ticking bomb against their cricketing aspirations at the highest level. Irfan Pathan, for example, asserted the same in an Instagram Live session with Suresh Raina, recalling how selectors refused to consider him once he had turned 30. While it happens to be a matter of common knowledge, established by the behavior of selectors over the years, what is also worth considering is that hardly anything exists from the horse’s mouth about it.

Lack of clarity on age, though, is sadly not the only confusing part a cricketer deals with when he plays his cricket in India and aspires to represent the nation. The entire selection process for the Indian cricket team, which is presided over by five members, of whom one is the chairman, is akin to a black box whose input (all the cricketers in the country) and output (the selected ones) are known, but not the process.

While it has always been so ever since the game began its journey in the country, spawning multiple controversies owing to this secretiveness, in today’s age where almost all organizations have come under the ambit of transparency, including the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the apex cricketing body of this cricket-crazy nation where those chosen to represent the nation are considered nothing short of gods, it is unthinkable that the selection process remains shrouded in deep mystery.

This mysterious element, however, may not be apparent or matter much to the fans for it does not directly affect them. They are, after all, concerned with performances, the outcome of selection, rather than the selection itself, which is the process. Unclear process, though, always affects the actors in the center of things making things happen- in this case the cricketers of this country.

Every time the selection committee meeting happens to pick a squad for a series or a tournament, their eyes and ears remain glued, anticipating positive news, though each time they remain entirely unsure how the names would be chosen, for there exist no predefined criteria. Been the top-scorer or the highest wicket-taker this season? There is no certainty your name would be chosen even for the ‘A’ team, forget the national team. Imagine the anxiety when this occurs repeatedly, as has been the case over the years with consistent performers in the domestic circuit.

Uncertainties in the selection process of Indian cricketers

Take, for example, Faiz Fazal, who led Vidarbha to consecutive Ranji Trophy and Irani Trophy triumphs (2017-2018, 2018-19), not an easy feat by any means, also managing to accumulate runs in a heap for those two seasons, but never got a call up for the Indian team, or even to the ‘A’ side in that period. Fazal has perhaps, by all means, resigned himself to the fact that he may not receive a call ever again if the peak performances failed to do so.

What must especially rankle in his mind is that what more he could have done to get that call? Did he ever figure on the radar of the selectors while he did exceedingly well in the dual role of a player and a leader? Was it age that went against his case? Answers to the most important questions in a cricket player’s life that never arrived.

This uncertainty due to a lack of defined criteria in selection has been further deepened in recent years with the meteoric success of the Indian Premier League (IPL), which has become the cynosure of BCCI and the fans. Earlier, there at least existed a certain degree of clarity on selection for each format. Ranji Trophy, the premier 4-day tournament, was primarily utilized for selecting the Test squad while performances in Vijay Hazare Trophy, the 50-over tournament, ever since it was started in the year 2002, would predominantly be utilized to select players for the shorter format.

However, as IPL began to assert its dominance in the early part of this decade and consolidated it in the latter half, it has cast a towering shadow on selection matters, relegating the other tournaments to the background. One look at the recent inclusions in the Indian team is enough to prove this influence of the world’s richest cricket league.

Only 2 players from the Ranji Trophy finalists of the three previous seasons have made it to the Indian team- Cheteshwar Pujara and Umesh Yadav, who were already playing for the team from before. In the last three years, only Hanuma Vihari can be said to have made it to the national team on the basis of domestic performances.

This has resulted in a continual decline in the importance of domestic tournaments as cricketers, noticing the trend, have begun to implicitly give it greater importance due to its efficacy in yielding a ticket to the Indian team. While cricketers aren’t much at fault for they are simply following the trend that provides them the most convenient path to their dream- of playing for the country- it is the selectors that have set this trend and are constantly encouraging it through their actions.

While fans may not seem concerned about this, these inconsistencies – such as utilizing a T20 format for selecting a player for Test matches – may severely cripple the team’s success in the long term. Similarly, undervaluing the importance of domestic competitions would also limit the talent pool available in the future. Thus, it is imperative that the selection process is made accountable and transparent, for the sake of all the stakeholders as well as the future of Indian cricket.

Changes required in the Indian selection process

The Indian selection process, thus, urgently requires certain changes. Firstly, it must define the criteria on which selections are made. What is most important in this regard is being consistent with the format for which the squad is being chosen. While for T20, the squad may be chosen on the basis of IPL, if a Test squad is to be chosen, weightage ought to be given to long format performances only. This automatically indicates Ranji Trophy performances, for it’s the only long-format tournament of considerable duration played in the country, while other 4-day/5-day recent games in Duleep Trophy and India A, may also be considered for additional inputs.

The step will also help to preserve the importance and sanctity of India’s oldest and premier domestic competition. Secondly, selectors ought to reveal the names they considered in each selection meeting in each area – batting, bowling, and all-rounder. Finally, clear communication by the selection committee with players regarding where they stand and what they could do to improve their position would help alleviate the players’ anxieties. This should ensure that cricketers remain motivated and there remains an actual level playing field for every cricketer aspiring to represent the country, rather than the conjectures that predominate the Indian team’s selection process.