August 14, 2020
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Space For A Bowler, Sir?

As cricket spells prestige and money, selectors are pressured in various ways to pick players

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Space For A Bowler, Sir?
An Outrage
Amit Bhandari during his playing days and, inset, as selector, after being bashed up by a disgruntled player
Photograph by Getty Images
Space For A Bowler, Sir?

In August 2009, Delhi captain Virender Seh­wag, fed up with selection-related corruption in local cricket, almost quit the national capital and said he might switch to Haryana, the state of his ancestors. His patience had run out with “too much interference and manipulation” in selection of the various Delhi teams. It took then Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) president Arun Jaitley—Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi had arg­ued Sehwag’s case—to persuade the aggrieved batsman to stay back by making a slew of promises to cleanse cricket.

Those promises were, of course, unkept; in the last ten years, the capital’s cricket, on and off the field, has slipped deeper into the abyss, as evidenced by the assault on the chairman of the senior selection committee a few days ago. A frustrated player who was ignored for the Delhi team and his cohorts thrashed Amit Bhandari with bats, rods and chains during a trial match at a venue with no security. The attack left the former India pacer with five stitches in his head, and a bruised back and shin.

The condemnable act comes at a time of Delhi’s abysmal performance in various men’s and women’s national tournaments. Yet, given that cricket is such a high stakes affair now, some people are not surprised at the assault, as transparency and accountability in selection and administration—promised by the DDCA in 2009—still remain a distant dream. A TV sting aired on February 20 shows Bihar and Jharkhand officials dem­anding money for selecting players.

Selection issues, which comprise constant pressure on selectors, is a nationwide phenomenon. “What has happened in Delhi is not uncommon; it’s happening almost all over India, in varying degrees. Money is playing a very important role in many issues. This is what we’ll have to possibly live with. All we can do is to res­train ourselves to such an extent that we are honest,” Kishen Rungta, 86, a former chairman of the national selection committee from Rajasthan, tells Outlook.

The flip side of dishonest people approaching selectors is players who have suffered at the hand of men who pick teams.

Former India wicket-keeper Kiran More, an ex-chairman of the national and Baroda selections panels, agrees. “At the national level, there’s no pressure at all. At the local level, the pressure is more and different. Earlier it was not so but now, not only in Baroda, but in other states as well, it’s more,” says Baroda-based More.

One of the primary reasons for growing pressure on selectors from players, parents and coaches is the ever rising stakes in Indian cricket. The eagerness to invest in the sport is so much now—and the rewards so rich—that players, parents and coaches want their wards to get into teams at all costs, even if that means taking an illegitimate, immoral route. They first try using their personal rappport with selectors. If that doesn’t succeed, they lure the selectors with cash and ‘kind’, which, at times, includes sexual favours.

In 2006, all-rounder Navdeep Tomar was inc­luded as an extra player in the Delhi team for the Ranji Trophy, leading to the sacking of the entire selection panel. Then, in 2015, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal sensationally alleged that sexual fav­ours were asked from the wife of a senior Delhi journalist in return for her son’s selection in a junior Delhi team. Last year, in a sting operation, the personal assistant of a director of the UP Cricket Association was heard seeking from a player girls for himself and his friend in return for a place in the state team. An inquiry by a former judge absolved the personal assistant of ‘fixing’ selection.

If all attempts to slip in underserving players into a team fails, political pressure is exerted. And, as a last resort, when a dishonest player fin­ally, and grudgingly, accepts the end of his career and quits, he resorts to muscle power to ‘teach’ selectors a lesson. Delhi pacer Anuj Dheda (subsequently banned for life from all cricket in Delhi), along with his friends, was trying that against Bhandari.

Former Mumbai selector and batsman Shishir Hattangadi terms the Bhandari incident frightening and predicts a dark future for selectors. “With the stakes getting higher this kind of incident is something one would expect, and one needs to be vigilant about the way players operate. While counselling for players is needed, more important is to restore the culture of the game,” Hattangadi says.

“There’s no pressure on national selectors. At local level, pressure is more and different in many states.”
Kiran More, Ex-national selector

Today, the value of success from a career in cricket is set so high that no player can countenance a denial of a piece of the rich cricket pie, especially with the kind of money that the lucrative IPL offers to all stakeholders, not just players. But, if a player fails to live his IPL dream, he can still earn a handsome amount by merely playing in the BCCI’s cash-rich tournaments. A player receives Rs 35,000 a day in all senior men’s tournaments, Rs 17,500 a day in the under-23 competition, Rs 10,500 a day in under-19 tourneys and an under-16 boy receives Rs 3,500 for a day’s exertions on the field.

If a male cricketer goes on to represent India, he receives a handsome Rs 15 lakh for each Test, and Rs 6 lakh and Rs 3 lakh for ODIs and T20 Internationals respectively. Additionally, over 30 top players are annually contracted for slabs of Rs 7 crore, Rs 5 crore, Rs 3 crore and Rs 1 crore.

The fee structure for women is not bad either. In senior tournaments, the daily fee is Rs 12,500, while for under-23, under-19 and under-16 it is Rs 5,500 a day. For an ODI and a T20 International, a player gets Rs 1 lakh. The slabs for the annual contracts for women are Rs 50 lakh, Rs 30 lakh and Rs 10 lakh. The BCCI also pays attractive bonuses for exceptional successes to both men’s and women’s teams and coaching/support staff.

With so much money on offer, who would not like to be part of the cricket jamboree? In some INS­tances, players get swayed by the razzmatazz of the IPL and therefore indulge in undesirable acts to get in. There have been murmurs over the years of some cricketers ‘returning’ a certain part of their contract fee back to certain franchisee officials as a ‘bribe’ for picking them.

Amid such high store being set for cricketing success, sel­ectors are under massive pressure, be it in domestic cricket or the IPL. Many former selectors like Madan Lal, Sanjay Jagdale, Lal­chand Rajput, and Rajinder Singh Hans admit that both friends and strangers had approached them to take a look at certain players. But, they insist, they never went out of their way to accommodate those requests.

“People know who to approach and who not to. They would never approach people like Bishan Bedi and Kapil Dev. Some people did approach me, but only with the req­­­uest to ‘iss bachche ko dekh lena’ (take a look at my ward). At times, even Kapil has asked to me to take a look at certain boys, but for my own academy, not for any represe­ntative team,” Madan Lal tells Outlook.  

Some friends of Jagdale, too, had sought his help. “If your concept is clear you won’t feel any pressure; I never felt that as a national selector. Although a few of my friends wanted me to ‘take a look’ at their sons who aspired to play for Madhya Pradesh when I was state selector, I didn’t oblige and that affected our relationship,” says the man who was Central Zone’s representative on the national panel for seven years (2000-01 to 2007-08).

Rajinder Singh Hans, another Central Zone man on the national panel, says he faced no iss­ues as a selector. “I never encouraged anyone. If you oblige one player, next year you would be comp­elled to oblige two…the number grows,” says the former left-arm spinner who coached Uttar Pra­desh to their only Ranji Trophy title in 2005-06.

Current Zimbabwe national coach Lalchand Rajput makes an interesting point on how to deflect pressure. “Pressure is always there on selectors, players and coaches. But as a selector, the more matches you watch, the less you’ll depend on others for selection, as you could judge players for yourself. I never had any problem as a Mumbai selector. But after what happened to Bhandari, it seems even selectors would now need bodyguards,” says the former India opening batsman.  

“Although friends asked me to ‘take a look’ at their cricketer sons for the MP team, I didn’t oblige them.”
Sanjay Jagdale, Ex-national selector

What makes the issue complex is that even players at times get a raw deal from selectors. Talented Hyderabad off-spi­nner Kaw­aljeet Singh was one such player who never got his due, but didn’t resort to unfair means. “I know what kind of agitation and fru­­stration one goes through on being overlooked. It’s devastating. Very few recover from that blow. There’s a lot of poli­tical pressure on selectors. In my case, I was either too young or too old for the selectors,” says the genial 60-year-old who as a youngster competed with fellow Hyderabadi off-spinners Shivlal Yadav and Arshad Ayub, both of whom went on to represent India.

Hattangadi, who quit as Mum­bai selector mid-season in 2009 over the inclusion of two players without his knowledge, makes a telling point. “The cricketing vote plays a big part in selectors’ appointment. Generally, when a selector is app­ointed he’s made aware that you are supported by X, Y or Z. So, there’s a comfort level for people who believe that they were res­ponsible for your appointment and thus have acc­ess to you to recommend individuals. If you are not strong enough, you may succumb to pressure,” he says.

Rungta, however, has the last word on how to make the process transparent—have live telecast of selection committee meetings. “That way each player would know where he stands and he will be open to correction or clarification if there is a misconception about him. It will show the calibre and honesty of selectors,” he said of a suggestion he first made 22 years ago.  

In these 22 years, Indian cricket has undergone a sea change, particularly with the launch of the IPL in 2008. That was the game-changing year, both for good and for worse. But, as Rungta says, we will have to live with it.

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