Friday, December 16, 2005

Chronicle: Thus spake Chief Selector

“Run aggregates and averages are not everything,” I keyed in indignantly, “They have to be seen in perspective. Think of the opposition that conceded them and the lack of assurance with which they were earned.” It was the day’s typical quota of e-argument amongst us college friends on Sourav Ganguly’s exclusion from Indian cricket team for the Sri Lanka ODI series a month or so back.
Midway through this heated free-for-all the discussion veered away from the initial point of contention - whether Ganguly deserved to be dropped – to a related secondary one. Whether Ganguly remained the same player of yesteryear. Rather disappointingly for the cricket-warrior in me, all parties simultaneously accepted that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and left it at that. “A silent and typing-weary acceptance of my point there,” I chuckled.
The above-mentioned selection may have had its share of dark secrets, primarily regarding the non-selection of Sourav Ganguly. The allegations at that time were largely unsubstantiated and based on conspiracy theory. Also the apparently ‘daredevil’ selectors deserved some benefit of doubt in view of the lighter moments generated during that phase and the support Sourav still enjoyed from the ruling BCCI supremo. That was an interesting first reel of what would essentially end as a sordid saga this week.
The contradictory quotes from the BCCI selection committee chairperson Mr. Kiran More were a drop-dead giveaway to ongoing backend manoeuvres. The remarks were so transparent, so to speak, that one could straightaway name the person behind the decision he would be uttering like a programmable android. Let us chronicle ‘Thus spake Chief Selector’ in a comprehensible sequence.
Following his non-appearance in the challenger trophy citing injury, Sourav Ganguly was kept out of the 1st two internationals of the 7 match Indo-SL ODI series on fitness grounds, which seemed a right decision at the time. My desktop keys started getting busy around this time. “More Power to the selection committee,” I thought aloud through my e-mails contracting an Australian bad habit with little premonition that the two words would come back to haunt an entire cricket-crazy population.
Then came team selection for next three ODI’s, and the committee was apparently forced by the team performance to keep a ‘great player’, held in ‘tremendous regard’ by them, out of the next three matches because ‘the youngsters were doing a good job’. ‘He is fit but does not figure in the team at the moment.’ The argument intensified in our e-forum now and the mercury started rising.
The rebuff to 'Gangs' for the last 2 ODI’s and South Africa series had a distinct chill about it. Expression of ‘regard’ this time was limited to a one-line ‘we haven’t ruled anyone out.’ Supporters of the unnameable player were as much upset with the omission as its spiteful communication,. Emotional Kolkatans, as could be expected, went overboard while demonstrating it at that heaven on earth also known as The Eden Gardens.
Meanwhile we kept on exchanging fire amongst ourselves whenever work provided some private space and typing time. “Why single him out from so many non-performers?” shouted the first mail as I logged on to my PC over the morning cuppa. “So what? The others are off colour but look at Ganguly’s game; it will take me some serious convincing to believe that our Dada can come back. An abruptly early exit is the destiny of all batsmen who live by the hand and eye.”
“Shameless Dravid!” challenged another one. Nothing doing. “Stop blaming Dravid for not returning the ‘favour extended’ by Ganguly in retaining him as a keeper 3 years back. Ganguly did the right thing for India by retaining Rahul who was just approaching his peak; and Rahul is returning the favour to India as Ganguly is over the hill.” I think I was seriously clocking a career-best 40+ words per minute then. 3 long replies were over by the time biscuits arrived. Painful ones - all of them. NOT the biscuits but the replies. For I admired Ganguly almost as much as their Dada-defending addressees.
Then came the selection for the Tests with Sri Lanka. News flashes are prone to spreading like wild fire, especially when they feature one who has been flirting with them all along. “Sourav has been picked for the tests,” someone yelled behind my cubicle. Rather incompletely as I would know later. On went the TV sets across a nation of one billion for a glimpse of the evening news.
A few minutes of the post-selection press conference footage worked like a potion for my strife-torn heart, and all pain was instantly replaced by bubbles of humour. Justification for selection? “We thought we'll use him as a batting all-rounder in the team.” Ever heard of a zanier one-liner in cricket?
An in-form Zaheer Khan, ‘Khan saheb’ to Dada, was nominated to pay in full for this selection. Simple reasoning, actually. “We consider Ganguly as an allrounder, that's why Zaheer Khan has missed out.” Thanks for the enlightenment Sir. Pulling of power (the modified spelling was yet to come) strings had thus ensured that the slapstick section of the entertainment package got off to a flier. Too bad it could not be sustained.
Came the BCCI elections, change of guard at the top, chopping and changing of selection panel, retention of chief selector, change of spelling and the first Test versus Sri Lanka, in that order. In retrospect the stage was probably set at Chennai for the curtain to be brought down on the batting all-rounder. Rain played spoilsport and the scene of action shifted to our national capital for the second Test.
Only God knows how many high fives were exchanged and poignant calls were made from the Kotla’s VIP enclosure to some vanquished BCCI executives when Sourav ended a third consecutive innings short of a fifty. The match was won, the team looked happy and the skipper was heard mentioning Sourav, who produced an average but dedicated effort on either outing, as one of the architects of the win at the press conference.
Circumstances suggest that the final act of Sourav Ganguly was known as such only to producers and managers of the show. If no proof of that exists then I would just say that I cannot imagine Dravid being party to this, not yet. It was possibly designed as a ‘surprise’ for all, even some of the main performers. Maybe they expected one and all to appreciate it as a pleasantly touching one. As the team management left the stage, these knowing men walked in with a collective nonchalance that might have prompted a few scribes to type ‘same squad for 3rd test’ even before our chief selector took his seat.
The one change in the squad was duly announced. The vision that jolted me out of the trance was of me having to answer tomorrow's mails from my friends. Big surprise revealed, they now went on to revel leaving a parting thought for the zapped audience: "We did not want Sourav at No. 6 because Yuvraj will play there. He has been consistent and we want to give him more opportunities. It's not done to have Sourav in the squad and not have him in the playing eleven. We are also keeping the future in mind." Luckily the heart was spared a mention there.
Thanks for the fabulous show, gentlemen, all round. The batting all-rounder left without a bowl in his last act. Naturally, as an unexpected blaze of glory with the red cherry akin to his 3-wicket burst in the Duleep trophy final could have burnt the hanging curtains and spoilt the big surprise. Such possible glitches were thankfully foreseen and worked around with charateristic panache.
The circus part was fine and cocky. The gags and laughs flowing from the effortless Chief Selector could sometimes ensure a roll on the mat. Real concerns, though, have surfaced at the end. With that grievous injury to a diminishing but one-time great performer, the audiences have come to know that there are a few untrained carnivores with bare fangs let loose out there.
I am all for animals – don’t worry about that. But this is not your regular circus, and nor are these normal carnivores. For all we know they may be attempting an ambush on a widely-loved pet of a billion people known as Indian cricket; I HAD to draw that archaic analogy. If so many have been able to survive all that happened in Indian cricket recently including this piece, then surely I can expect a reprieve for my allegory.
So will somebody please inform the wildlife officials? Will the other trapped performers in the ring PLEASE CRY OUT, as their existence depends on it?

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