The Abhijit Kale episode appears to have opened the Pandora’s box. Wronged players like Vanka Pratap, Ritesh Yadav and others of their ilk are beginning to give vent to their suppressed anger and frustration. The startling stories they are coming out with conclusively confirm that apart from filthy lucre, blatant nepotism, favouritism and political clout also play a key role in the selection of certain players at almost every level in Indian cricket.
Joining the bandwagon is the Saurashtra all-rounder Vipul Mehta. Hailing from Jamnagar, which has produced stalwarts like K.S. Ranjitsinhji, K.S. Duleepsinhji, Vinoo Mankad and Salim Durrani, Mehta is known for his commitment and never-say-die attitude. A highly talented off-spinner and a gutsy, reliable middle-order batsman, Mehta has been a very consistent performer in all tournaments conducted by the Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) since the early 1990s. But he has played only two Ranji Trophy matches so far.
Mehta, who turns the ball prodigiously and is not afraid to flight it, can be a match-winner on his day. He has been a scourge of batsmen in inter-district and other important matches. Just before the start of the current season he had taken 15 wickets for Jamnagar against the mighty Bhavnagar. Yet, there was no place for him in the 20 probables, leave alone in the Saurashtra team. But players incapable of holding a candle to him get selected. Prominent among them are Nayan Doshi and Jaidev Shah, according to Mehta.
"It’s not because of their talent or performances that Nayan and Jaidev have become permanent members of Saurashtra. They are not more than average players. But then Nayan is the son of former India spinner Dilip Doshi and Jaidev’s father is none other than Niranjan Shah, the SCA supremo," alleges Mehta.
"Dilip Doshi may have been born in Rajkot but he did nothing for Saurashtra. He played all his competitive cricket for Bengal, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and, of course, India. But he and Shah are said to be distant cousins and happen to be chairman and director respectively in a reputed company. Do I need to say any more?"
But Shah, who has also served as the BCCI secretary, brushes aside such charges. "Nayan and Jaidev are picked in the team purely on merit, just like other Saurashtra players. We’ve a very transparent selection process and we ensure that the best players are chosen. If Nayan is Dilip Doshi’s son and Jaidev mine, it’s only a coincidence. It’s nothing to do with their selection. There’ve been hundreds of such cases all over the world; even in international cricket," Shah says unconvincingly.
The fact is that his son has scored only 255 runs at 15.93 in 9 matches and 16 innings at the time of writing this article. Jaidev is primarily a batsman but his only noteworthy innings so far has been the 76 that he scored against Vidarbh at Nagpur on debut last season. He is a fluent striker of the ball when in mood and middling form. But most of the times arrogance takes the better of him when wielding the willow. This usually happens when one begins to take for granted his place in the team.
Nayan, who bowls left-arm spin, has not been impressive at all in the last three seasons except for his five-wicket haul in an innings against the lacklustre Services on a spin-friendly pitch in Delhi the other week. He has neither bowled well nor taken a bagful of wickets. As regards his tall claims to being an all-rounder, Nayan has seldom or never reached double figures.
Besides being a poor performer, Nayan has had a negative effect on the team, both on and off the field. His unruly behaviour in a Ramakant Desai Trophy one-dayer at Pune cost Altaf Merchant his leadership. Niranjan Shah not only stripped Merchant of his captaincy but also fined him Rs 5000 without listening to his side of the story. Nayan, the main culprit, was allowed to go scot-free with a lighter punishment – a fine of Rs 5000.
"Players like Nayan don’t figure even in the second XIs in the English League. This is precisely why he has come to India where the SCA authorities are ready to give him a red-carpet welcome for obvious reasons," remarks former Saurashtra wicketkeeper Manoj Parmar, who invariably forced the selectors to pick him on the strength of his performances.
"One particular Saurashtra selector seemed to have a strong dislike for me. I don’t know why. Maybe he didn’t like my face or the way I used to speak! He’d the gall to tell me, always, that but for my consistently good showing behind and in front of the stumps, they’d have never played me," reveals Parmar, who coached the Scotland team and is currently rendering his services at Oxford in the same capacity.
Parmar must consider himself lucky that in spite of their unwillingness, the selectors could not ignore his performance. Yusuf Bambhaniya is not so fortunate. A quality left-arm spinner whom the legendary Rajinder Goel had complimented after a cursory glance at his bowling in the nets, Bambhaniya has both the class and the performance to back him. But the selectors, hell-bent on playing a mediocre like Nayan, are not interested in him. "They’ve made Yusuf a scapegoat to make room for Nayan. If I were a selector, I’d pick Yusuf first of all in my team. He’s such a fine spinner," emphasises Parmar.
Bambhaniya has been regularly among wickets but he has not figured in the Saurashtra team for the last four seasons. "We’ve already two left-arm spinners in Rakesh Dhruv and Nayan. How can we play Bambhaniya?" argues a selector.
"Besides the big, inevitable Nayan factor, Bambhaniya has become a poor victim in the ego clash of two selectors," says a SCA insider.
"Is it surprising why mediocrity has crept in the Saurashtra team? The selectors are a joke. They’re there as a part of procedure only. They’re mere puppets in the hands of Niranjan Shah who usually pencils in even the playing XI. It’s time the SCA was rid of this man and his henchmen who seem to believe as if the SCA is their personal property. I suspect there’s a lot of malpractice going within the SCA, including on the financial front, and if a neutral, high-level inquiry is conducted, many shocking things will come out," thunders Vipul Mehta.
But Shah is least bothered. "These’re nothing but rants and raves of a frustrated man. Let Mehta prove these charges. If he can’t, he has no right to cast aspersions on others. Since the BCCI is thinking of increasing the match fees at every level in domestic cricket, players like Mehta, who aren’t getting younger, are desperate to play for Saurashtra by hook or by crook. But we’re building the team keeping the future in mind. We must look ahead, not back. We want to promote and encourage talented youngsters. And don’t forget that Mehta is a chucker and this is one of the main reasons why he doesn’t figure in our scheme of things," avers the SCA chief.
Does Mehta really throw?
"No way. My action is perfectly all right. I’ve never ever been called by any umpire in any match, not even in Ranji Trophy, in my career till today. The truth is that since the SCA can’t give any persuasive reason for overlooking me, Niranjan Shah has come up with this readymade but ridiculous excuse," stresses Mehta, who has threatened to go on a hunger strike after Christmas in front of the SCA office in Rajkot in protest against the "continual injustice" done to him by the selectors.
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