F lashback: Kris Srikkanth the player; the dashing opener, with a devil-may-care attitude. His abiding image is that of the man taking on the might of Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Michael Holding in the final of the 1983 World Cup. An image of the man given to making habitual facial gestures and getting on with it.
Srikkanth the chief selector exuded much the same image. Though his tenure had its highs and lows (and it must be said that the selection of an Indian team is a collective effort), he rarely rose above that impetuous image. It had probably more to do with the way he communicated than the way he did his job.
It is a very difficult job to assess the performance of a selector over four years. The selection of a team should ideally be a process and not an event where five wise men just sit around and confabulate. Even though the BCCI made the right moves in professionalising the panel and making them run around the circuit, the existing system of zonal representation of selectors did negate a lot of those good intentions. Mix that with a complete lack of communication from the chief of selectors, an absence of articulation of intent and vision, and you get a perfect recipe for an opaque institution. Srikkanth, caught in that opacity, ever remained the inscrutable face of the sphinx. He had his high when India won the World Cup after 28 years, but that quickly evaporated when India rivalled their abysmal performances of the 1960s by losing eight away Tests on the trot.
He succeeded Dilip Vengsarkar in 2008, who was courting controversies by the dozen by being on the other extreme of the articulation spectrum. During Srikkanth’s four years four years, 16 players made their Test debut and 17 new players donned the ODI jersey. It is also the period when Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman hung up their boots. His tenure also marked the twilight of ‘The Great Indian Test Team’ of the last decade.
Now coming to the problem of fixing the parameters for assessing his performance. In my view, a good selection committee is one which views selection as a process. Towards this, it has to firstly have a very good roadmap and follow it consistently. Secondly, it must identify potential players for each spot and have a communication line open with them. The idea is to optimise potential.
Thirdly, it must have a very good performance appraisal system, giving due weightage to conditions in which the said performances have been achieved. Fourthly, it should not sit isolated, sphinx-like, but interact with administrators, coaches and physios to find out the reasons for below-par results, and play an advisory role in getting optimum performances. Fifthly and very importantly, it should not have any biases.
On the first count, I do not rate Srikkanth very highly. If he had a roadmap, nobody saw it. He did maintain a fair modicum of consistency in ODI selection in the run-up to the World Cup. However, I cannot fathom the logic of selecting players like Abhishek Nayar, Pankaj Singh, Naman Ojha, Saurabh Tiwary, Abhimanyu Mithun, and Ashok Dinda and then dropping them without giving them a fair run. We were all surprised when Tiwary, who was touring with India ‘A’, got picked for national duty.
He missed such a wonderful opportunity of getting exposure with the ‘A’ team. And what happened to him then? He was dropped after three ODIs and banished into the woods. Mithun is another poignant case of potential wasted thanks to selection idiosyncrasies. His performance on Test debut in Sri Lanka, on unhelpful wickets, was noteworthy. Yet, he has not been persisted with. Pankaj’s case, of course, is one of regional bias. This happens to boys who come from smaller centres or associations whose officials do not have sufficient clout in BCCI. Rajasthan is only the fifth team to have won the Ranji Trophy in the tournament’s 78-year history, but look at the treatment its players have got.
While the Jalaj Saxenas and Naman Ojhas get selected, the Robin Bists, Vinit Saxenas and Pankaj Singhs remain out of favour. Delhi won the Ranji Trophy in 2008, but Aakash Chopra continued to remain out of favour even as Murali Vijay was fast-tracked into the opener’s slot. It is another matter that he was found wanting. In the Test arena too, it was baffling to see some of the selections, but even more baffling was the haste with which such selections were reversed. S Badrinath, Mithun, Abhinav Mukund, Jaydev Unadkat, Varun Aaron, R Vinay Kumar and Praveen Kumar are all being played around like a game of roulette. Nobody knows the why and wherefore of this lack of a roadmap and inconsistency. Only Chet-eshwar Pujara, R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Virat Kohli have become stable among Srikkanth’s selectees, which is four out of 16. So 4 out of 10 on the first count.
The less said the better. Srikkanth is difficult to approach, said everyone. I was the manager of the India ‘A’ in England. Mithun was the original fast bowling spearhead, but was picked for national duty. Ishant Sharma was coming from injury and needed match practice. Two of Srikkanth’s colleagues were also with the team. The tour selection committee requested for Ishant, thinking that besides bolstering our own firepower, Ishant could regain match fitness. The selectors agreed with us and called Cheeka, who just shrugged it off. It is another matter that Ishant struggled in the next Test series because he was not match fit. So Srikkanth will get only 1 out of 10 on this count.
Performance appraisal system
Cheeka will struggle to tell us if he even knows what a performance appraisal system means. This system, if at all it existed, must have existed in Srikkanth’s mind. He pretty much conducted the meetings of selection committee in the manner he batted in his prime — without a plan and without a care in the world. It helped, of course, that the BCCI system was favourable, or he would have been shown the exit door much earlier.
On the fourth count, the performance would be counted as average for the committee as a whole but for Srikkanth, nothing epitomised the lack of communication more than the Laxman retirement saga.
On the fifth count, Srikkanth would be guilty of sins of omission more than of commission. One has to see the selection of ‘A’ and ‘Emerging Players’ teams to get a flavour of this. As these selections attract less media glare, playing favourites is less onerous for a selector. Some of the selections in these games have been nothing short of scandalous. C Ganapathy, Jalaj Saxena, Naman Ojha, Jaskaran Singh, Bipul Sharma, Akshay Darekar, Kedar Jadhav. Forget the selections, nobody knows why people are picked and not persisted with thereafter. The curious case of Ishank Jaggi, who went to an Emerging Players tour and has been banished thereafter in spite of a stellar domestic record, or Pankaj Singh, or for that matter Dhaval Kulkarni! Some of Srikkanth’s Rest of India selections leave one equally bemused.
Regional bias becomes apparent when virtually every Tamil Nadu player, including his son, makes it to the top teams including Team India and the twice champion side struggles to put even a handful of their players up in the highest spheres. Srikkanth could not rise above parochial considerations and give-and-take method of selections.
So it’s 13 out of 50. Five grace marks for the World Cup triumph and the grand total swells to 18. At 36%, it is barely passing marks. India deserves a lot better.