In a chat with Deba Prasad Dhar, former selector Raja Venkat clarifies the talking points during his four-year stint.
A World Cup win, No 1 position in Tests and the rout in England and Australia, your panel had quite an eventful four years...
We couldn’t have asked for a better beginning. We started against Australia and England in 2008 and won both the series. The changes clicked like Amit Mishra had slotted in well for Anil Kumble. Bar the last two overseas series against England and Australia, our panel had done well.
A predictable Indian T20 side travelled to Sri Lanka. Slow movers, no T20 specialists.
We selected the best combination even though one or two new names may have cropped up. We have our limitations on the field which can’t be changed overnight. We still have six fielders of international standards. I agree that Zaheer Khan and Virender Sehwag might not be the swiftest movers around. But they are match winners.
Was Yuvraj Singh’s selection an emotional one?
We were given a clean chit that he was fit to play. And he has done well. Maybe, in the batting he could have done better. He didn’t let us down.
To the end, your panel backed Rohit (Sharma). Were you content with the returns?
He’s the most talented among the lot. Unfortunately, he hasn’t got the runs. Given his skills, it was only fair that he got a long rope.
At the expense of another talented player?
Manoj (Tiwary) has delivered in the ODIs. It’s different in T20 where Rohit has the capability to play an impact innings.
And Piyush Chawla for World T20? That too without any matches...
We knew the Sri Lankan tracks would be turners. Amit Mishra had just come out of an injury. Rahul Sharma didn’t do well in the India ‘A’ tour of the West Indies. Piyush is more of an all-round cricketer. And a handy man on the field. He was quite good against England. Against Australia, everybody got hit. Our spin cupboard is bare. We could have only chosen the best amongst them.
In the first two years of your tenure, it was held that you guys were enjoying the fruit of the work done by the Dilip Vengsarkar panel.
Fresh faces were rare...
Let’s identify the players we blooded. Murali Vijay was one; and Amit Mishra and Ishant Sharma came back. Cheteshwar Pujara and Umesh Yadav are among the new faces that have settled down. In the Tests earlier, there was no need to replace our first six. They were all stalwarts. Sourav (Ganguly) was the first to retire and was immediately replaced by Yuvraj.
But where have the fast bowlers gone? We don’t have a pool.
Don’t forget injury has been a constant bottleneck. We lost S Sreesanth and Varun Aaron, both quality bowlers, to injuries. We couldn’t have the services of RP Singh, a quality swing bowler. Ditto with Munaf’s niggles.
It was held that you people seldom got updates by the National Cricket Academy on bowlers’ fitness.
On the day of selection, we would always be told who was available. I’ll tell you how it worked. Imagine you are selecting the team today and a player is declared unfit. Maybe they will say he’ll be fit in a week. We wouldn’t consider a player unfit on the day of selection. Isn’t that fair?
Was there ever a plan to phase out the seniors? Was there a communication gap with VVS Laxman? He was training for the season and then announced his exit after being selected for the Tests against New Zealand.
There was no need to phase them out so long as they were performing. Five of them played 100 Tests. Considering the quality of the players they were, they took a call on their own. About Laxman, that was our last Test selection. Could we have told VVS that we were thinking of dropping him after naming him in the first two Tests? We knew we wouldn’t be selecting a Test team anymore. So where was the question of communicating anything to him? Replacing players who have served you for nearly 16 years is a big, big ask. It was only in the last series against Australia that Virat (Kohli) established himself. Sourav retired in 2008, and it has taken three years to fill another slot.
Where do you see Indian cricket going from here?
We are struggling to find quality bowlers. If you watch Ranji, there are hardly any spinners to write home about. The medium pacers aren’t sustaining themselves. Count in the last three years, how many of them have come and gone. Sreesanth had such a lovely out-swinger. I don’t know how he lost his way. In the batting, Virat and Pujara are already there. I’ve high hopes from Robin Bisht, Mandeep Singh and Unmukt Chand. Among the quicks, Shami Ahmed is sharp. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar has promise too.
We are at the crossroads. We’ve lost a few batting legends.
Sachin (Tendulkar) could be around for a year or two. Zaheer is not the same bowler anymore. But he would win you matches abroad. In India it would be Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. We aren’t getting such cricketers anymore. The challenge is to fill in these places.
The best man on your panel Mohinder Amarnath was shunted out. Couldn’t he have made a difference to this committee?
I’d rather not comment on that. But during the one year we worked together, he came across as a wonderful person. Absolute gentleman, great knowledge of the game. We had the highest regard for him.