Colombo: What is it that we want from our cricket selectors? Some foresight would be good. Transparency would be helpful, if only to keep a million conspiracy theories at bay. Thick skin never hurts, especially in a country where most former players, journalists and fans reckon they know better.
The ongoing season is a pivotal one for Indian cricket, with eight Tests against England and Australia the stage for a new generation to assert itself. The previous panel misread the signs of decay in 2011 and the team paid the price. The 0-4 scorelines in England and Australia were accurate reflections of the performances. India were so bad and the margins of defeat so massive that even hard-luck stories couldn't be trotted out.
When things go well, as when India were climbing to No.1 in the Test rankings or when they won the World Cup in 2011, the selectors barely merit a mention. When things go wrong, as they did so spectacularly last season, there's no end to the vitriol.
It's not as though this is an Indian phenomenon either. On January 3, 1987, Mike Coward wrote a column in the Sydney Morning Herald titled 'Selectors With Nothing Much to Choose From'. These two passages are extracted from it.
"In return for being pilloried from October to February, Australia's cricket selectors receive little gratitude, even less satisfaction and a duty allowance of $150 a day."
"Rarely in the history of the game in this country has a panel of selectors been subjected to such consistent and scathing criticism. In the eyes of professional and armchair critics, ardent followers and casual observers, they are, at best, incompetent.
Former players and selectors have berated them publicly. Even the Ashes captains, Allan Border and Mike Gatting, have said their piece, Border then having to make his peace.
Lawrie Sawle, Greg Chappell, Jim Higgs and Dick Guy are under siege."
Now, consider this: Steve Waugh, Geoff Marsh and Merv Hughes made their debuts during that selection panel's tenure. Dean Jones, Craig McDermott and David Boon established themselves during the same period. Within three years of that article being written, Australia would journey to England and annihilate their Ashes rivals 4-0.
Of the four, only Chappell was a great of the game. Sawle was a dour opening batsman with a modest first-class record. Higgs and Guy were legspinners who never achieved Richie Benaud status. But between the four of them, Border and Bob Simpson, the coach, they turned Australian cricket around. Within a decade of the nadir being reached, the baggy green was once more the most feared cap in the game.
I was reminded of that when I saw a comment on the likely composition of India's new selection committee. "Vikram Rathour & Abey Kuruvilla have a combined experience of less than 50 ODIs & Tests!" said the reader. "They are gonna pick the Indian Team Now...Wow IRONY Indeed..They could never make it big on the International Scene & they will pick the best Indian 11...God Help Indian Cricket."
The gentleman in question is entitled to his opinion, but such a mindset betrays stereotypes that should have been abandoned decades ago. You don't need to be Francois Truffaut to critique a movie, just as you don't need to be Sir Donald Bradman to figure out what's best for a cricket team. Sawle spent most of his life as an educator, and he rejected short-term fixes. Australia lost often and heavily during the first couple of years that he chaired the panel. But because he and his fellow selectors had the courage and conviction to back a new generation, the years that followed were golden.
The recent Under-19 World Cup showed that India has no paucity of talent. Identifying it at the right time and making sure it doesn't wait too long in the wings is the tricky part, as is keeping tabs on those that might briefly have lost their way. The Test or one-day team more or less picks itself. The selectors' nous comes to the fore in picking A sides and teams to play matches against touring sides.
What Indian cricket needs right now is not a legend who sees a place on the selection panel as a lucrative autumn job. It needs men like Sawle who see beyond regional considerations and sentiment - no one, whatever their stature, should come before the team's interests. It's a job for hard men, not yes men.