August 03, 2020
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Too Wise Men

Despite dubious reputations, selectors Shivlal Yadav and Sambaran Banerjee survive, courtesy Dalmiya's patronage

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Too Wise Men

THESE are possibly the two most discredited selectors in the history of Indian cricket. Every cricketer, every cricket administrator, every cricket reporter—past and present—will vouchsafe how they have thrown every known canon associated with their job to the winds in the space of just one short, tumultuous year.

These are the selectors, alone or together, who want Sachin Tendulkar replaced as skipper; whose general misconduct is the buzz across the maidans. These are the selectors who, to a set-up visited by allegations of matchfixing, have contributed significant others: bribe-taking, politicking and dubious media-savvy.

These are also possibly the two most defenceless selectors in the history of Indian cricket. Nobody, not ICC chief Jagmohan Dalmiya, not BCCI president Raj Singh Dungarpur, not secretary J.Y. Lele, not even the chairman of the selectors Ramakant Desai, nobody has ever stood up and defended them.

These are the selectors nobody expected would survive the Board's Chennai AGM. Not after the rumours swirling around them. Not after the nationwide consensus that was building up in favour of credible former Test players as selectors. Says Sunil Dev, manager on the 1996-97 South Africa tour: "They stayed because Dalmiya won."

 Lele admits the issue of Shivlal Yadav and Sambaran Banerjee was taken up by former BCCI president Inder Singh Bindra, but says, "No names were taken." He claims the Board doesn't know the names. When Kuldip Lal of the French news agency AFP volunteered at a press conference in the presence of TV cameras, Lele ducked.

"I haven't seen a more controversial lot," says P.R. Man Singh, manager of the 1983 World Cup team who drew attention to the rumours of the bribe-taking to pick players. But in pillorying the duo, cricket aficionados tend to forget that Yadav and Banerjee are only a byproduct of BCCI politics. And to it, they owe their survival.

When Bindra took up the issue of the duo at the AGM, the only defence came from Dalmiya cronies, B.B. Das of Orissa and P. Ranga Reddy of Hyderabad, who proposed to replace the North Zone representative M.P. Pandove, a Bindra aide. Compromise ensued: you don't touch my man, I won't touch yours.

Madan Lal goes, Ali Irani goes, and the selectors who are—rightly or wrongly—seen as the cause of all that's wrong with Indian cricket stay. With one fallout: pre-election, everybody was sure who the black sheep were. Now everybody is convinced who their backers have been all through the sordid chop-and-change drama that has seen Indian cricketing fortunes plummet.

As the nation lampoons them for their 'hard work', there is nobody to defend their actions. These were the selectors who realised that Mohammed Azharuddin's time was up and plumped for Sachin last year. Yet, everybody pounces on them when Yadav tells The Week—in the presence of a foreign news agency reporter—that it's time now to give Sachin a break, to let him get his act right.

The clamour to replace Sachin is an honest admission that the five wise men made a mistake in the first place; that India can ill afford Sachin's batting to collapse any further under the weight of captaincy. Yet, when S.K. Sham writes of a powerful lobby that's finding access difficult under Sachin, nobody in the BCCI raises a voice. When Desai speaks up, it's not to support his colleague but to say the "culprit will be caught". For speaking the truth?

Critics allege one of the two was moving around with "suspicious types" before last Monday's meeting in Mumbai. They say the duo nearly won over a third selector, Kishen Rungta, to effect the coup. Yet, after all the build-up, it's to their credit that they retained Sachin for the three Tests against Sri Lanka on the strength of his 5-3 record against Pakistan. The cribbers crib that Madan Lal could have survived on the same logic. But wasn't Azhar, after the disastrous 1992-93 South Africa series, given just one Test against England to prove himself and his captaincy?

THESE were the selectors who unearthed Noel David and Deba-shis Mohanty, Saba Karim and Pankaj Dharmani, Dodda Ganesh and Sunil Joshi, helping them earn huge sums without earning a pie themselves. Yet, when Rajan Bala writes of a selector who demanded Rs 2 lakh from Nayan Mongia to be picked for the Asia Cup, nobody in the Board is willing to stand up and be counted.

When Raj Singh does wake up to a Bombay Times report, and asks Lele about it, the little man not only doesn't deny but confirms the allegation in a veiled manner. A much-publicised dressing down follows. Cricket circles are still hissing about the short cut Prashant Vaidya and Narendra Hirwani took to return to the team by opting to play for Dalmiya's fiefdom, Bengal, in the Ranji Trophy: "When will Rohan Gavaskar get in, this year or next?"

Sambaran was being his usual courteous self when he invited Debashish Dutta of the Bengali newspaper Aaj Kal to room with him at the Taj Westend in Bangalore during the conditioning camp for the Asia Cup probables in July. Yet, everybody drew his own conclusion when Dutta published the team for Sri Lanka replacement-for-replacement 24 hours before the selectors' meet. And when Dutta later quoted Azhar as saying: "I'm destined to lead India again."

Unlike the usually secretive lot, Yadav and Banerjee have been accessible to reporters, at all times of the day, "on condition of anonymity". They say Sachin and Madan Lal wanted Azhar axed for the Independence Cup after the disaster at St Vincent where India 201/3 collapsed to 232 needing 250.Yadav says he himself wanted Azhar for the home tournament where he would have been a different kettle of fish but was overruled.

And they have never hesitated to put the record straight. They say Sachin was the one who insisted on Dharmani's inclusion for the South Africa tour. "I was stunned when Sachin came up with the name," Yadav said before the team flew to Toronto. Dharmani returned without playing a match, but richer by about Rs 27 lakh. Yet, everybody airily talks of wheeling-dealing.

G.R. Vishwanath boasts that as chairman, he never allowed selections to come up for vote. Contrast this with Yadav and Banerjee: "We discussed Sachin's captaincy in Calcutta in June and in his presence in Bangalore in July. We had a vote. It was 3-2 in his favour." Yet, everybody accuses them of politicising the board room.

When Javagal Srinath came back from the West Indies and Sachin wanted an offspinner, they sent a younger Noel David instead of Kanwaljit Singh, Hyderabad's main offspinner. Yet, everybody talks of how they humiliated Rajesh Chauhan, the man Sachin wanted, by making him undergo a test before Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev to prove he didn't chuck.

Even at the best of times, selecting a team is a thankless job. Never do selectors get any credit when things go right (Banerjee backed Saurav Ganguly against all odds). Never certainly, as Raj Singh says, when things go wrong. But the credibility-loss after Vishwanath's exit has been especially sharp and alarming.

All of India rants at their zonal bias. All of India buzzes with rumours of this, that, the other and the rest. And what does the Board do? Act dumb: see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing. Dungarpur, who makes much of his passion and vision for the game, didn't respond to an Outlook fax.

Says Yadav: "I asked Raj Singh to give us a chance to answer the criticism. But he said things would cool down." Adds Pandove: "I have recommended that selection committee proceedings be recorded and played to reporters to clear the air." What little the Board has done, it has backfired. After Sachin called the Asia Cup team B grade, Raj Singh, a former chairman of the selection panel himself, spoke to the selectors before they picked the team for the Tests. Everybody saw it as a reprimand when Vinod Kambli and Mongia returned to the side.

This time round, after the selectors were retained as a "package deal" between the Dalmiya-Bindra groups, Raj Singh is believed to have told the duo not to touch the captain. Still, The Telegraph wrote that Azhar figured prominently in the run-up to the selectors' meeting. Bala says a surprise can be expected for the one-dayers. "It's bad for cricket, but there's no-go," says West's Dilip Sardesai who, like South's Brijesh Patel and East's Arun Lal, ended up on the selectorial sidelines, riding the wrong horse. "We've to insulate the selection panel composition from BCCI squabbles if we need quality guys," says vice-president Kamal Morarka.

And to think that when everybody, Gavaskar downwards, says only former Test players should be selectors, Yadav is the only one of the present lot—three of whom haven't represented the country—to have donned national colours, and with some distinction (35 Tests). Banerjee came close.

In Chennai, the BCCI had a golden chance to clean its stables. And clear the air. Yet, what happens? They survive. As a Madhavrao Scindia aide notes: "Even a demented person can promote cricket in India. It takes some vision to set it right, starting with the selectors."

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