Former as well as current players have plenty to talk about India’s chances in the four-Test series against South Africa, beginning Thursday at Mohali.
While the former players point out the deficiencies in the bowling attack and the unsettling batting order, some current players, returning from injury lay-offs, are desperate to dispel doubts over their fitness and their preferred batting slots or preferred nature of pitches to bowl on.
Most players have found a safer way to protect themselves by purveying their views through the cricket board’s website or talking at a media conference arranged by it. Of course, some senior players have their favourite reporters to protect their interests. Those who are working hard to fight their way into the India squad periodically use these media platforms to remind the selectors that they are still around.
As for former stalwarts, they mostly find fault with the system. They attack the board, selectors, captains and the team management for all the ills of Indian cricket. They mostly blame it on the Indian Premier League (IPL) for the lack of quality bowlers and the care-a-hang approach to batting.
Even as Indian cricket struggles with these routine issues, two interesting developments have lead to serious debates. One, Kapil Dev saying Sachin Tendulkar did not know how to get double, triple and quadruple hundreds and two, the sudden discovery of conflict of interest in Roger Binny sitting on the selection committee that picked his son Stuart to play for India.
Raising these questions is unfair to Kapil, Tendulkar and Roger, who have all done India proud with their on-field exploits, and also poor Stuart for no fault of his.
Worse, former India captain, chief selector and coach Ajit Wadekar appears to have fallen for the media bait by taking off at not only Kapil but the entire north Indian cricketers.
Kapil is entitled to his opinion and if he can’t express what he thought of Tendulkar, having played with him and being the coach when the Mumbaikar captained the India team, who else is competent. Surely, Tendulkar will not take Kapil’s comment made in good faith amiss.
What did Kapil say? He has only stated that Sachin was not ruthless enough to build huge hundreds despite possessing the ability to make them. He has qualified it saying he was reared in the Bombay school of cricket where batsmen are more disciplined and solid.
How could Wadekar jump to conclusion that Kapil’s harmless remarks amplify his dislike for Mumbai cricket and cricketers. He stretched the argument to say that Mumbai greats Gavaskar and Tendulkar have played for the teams, not for their own personal glory. If someone infers that he is accusing cricketers from other parts playing for themselves.
Wadekar says just because they played for the team Mumbai won the Ranji Trophy 40 times. Yes, cricketers from other centres thought it was their arrogance in those years when they boasted it was easy to get into India team, not into Bombay squad, rightly gave them the air of superiority.
Ask Rajasthan players, who lost seven finals when Mumbai had their unbeaten run for 17 years from 1956-77 to 1072-23, and they will tell you how difficult it was to play Bombay even with some of the top professionals turning out for them.
The other topic that is being hotly discussed is the conflict of interest which is a pet subject of board president Shashank Manohar. At the top of his list of some 28 points to cleanse the board, he wants to make sure that none of the players or officials has any financial dealings that can smack of nepotism.
Manohar will soon realise how easy it is to say and difficult to implement the conflict of interest clause unless he is willing to sack a whole lot of influential former cricketers who have been successfully milking the board and state associations ever since they quit playing. The IPL has given them another avenue to enrich themselves. Nothing can be more nepotistic than the chief selector acting as a brand ambassador of an IPL franchise.
After three years as national selector and a little over year since his son is part of the India team, Roger Binny’s position as national selector has become untenable. He has just a year to go, but he may not get the fourth year under the new dispensation.
For public consumption, it is said both Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli are keen on having Stuart in the squad and the two also say they are still searching for an all-rounder at No 7.
Somebody should have reminded the board that great reader of the game M L Jaismha quit as national selector once his son Vivek started knocking at the door for India selection. It is not Roger’s fault. In any case, India team is selected before the selectors formally meet.
Once, former board secretary, the late Jayawant Lele was asked why a particular coach was being removed despite the team doing well under him and he quipped: There are so many former cricketers in the queue and everyone should get the opportunity to enjoy the perks!
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)