Thursday, December 29, 2005

Signpost and weathercock: The small matter of sports selection panels

A direction signpost at your neighbourhood road crossing has its purpose. The weathercock mounted atop that public building also has a job to do. Both of these objects are designed to indicate direction and yet their design requirements are so very different.

The signpost needs to communicate the right directions to wayfarers. In order to be effective the post needs to be immovable. It should be strong enough to resist overturning forces from natural elements and human pests. The weathercock shows the direction of the prevalent wind and hence should be free to keep changing its orientation incessantly.

I like to define a good selector as a good signpost that can also be a good weathercock for specific purposes. Selectors of any professional sports team invariably have a tough job on hand. In the face of it, the selection committee should be an immovable signpost in its primary mission: giving direction to that sport by consistently selecting the most eligible players across the country. Sounds easy, till complications appear on the horizon hand-in-hand with this 'eligibility' word.

Eligibility is assessed on two primary considerations: immediate scenario as well as long-term vision. The weathercock approach works best for making short-term assessments like playing conditions, opponent strength and style analysis, not to mention players' fitness, form and availability. The long-term vision, on the other hand, is likely to be derived from a SWOT analysis and is hence comparable to an immovable entity. Signpost stuff.
Often these two essential yet diverse lines of assessment would lead to contrasting inferences and result in a dilemma, quite like those cropping up for the on-field captain during matches. And we are not yet talking about individual differences across the committee.
Sound judgement, integrity and flexibility are the defining attributes of good selection panels across all professional sport. External pressures of non-cricketing nature put their integrity to examination. Flexibility has to come to the fore when solving immediate concerns. Judgement is the keyword when proposed measures are found to be non-aligned to the larger interest.

And - these qualities do not quite add up, they actually multiply. God save the panel that scores a blank in any of these.

Yet after putting their mind through all that stress and big-time crystal gazing, the success or failure of the selected team over a period remains their only report of their performance that reaches the numerous fans of the sport, its principal taxpayers. Thankless indeed.

There is a nation, however, where the sport named cricket has given itself every chance to be found as a thesaurus alternative to 'life'. It is an emotion. Sheer madness that, you may argue, when the nation has so many thousand other vital issues begging for attention. The game somehow touches a raw nerve with the folk there. Emotions keep pouring out from imperishable reserves match after frequent cricket match like bottled up champagne.

People who run the game there are (thought) answerable to a billion people! A lot is at stake, or so it appears to the people who can perceive the lurking dangers of fanatical following. To run such a high-profile administration must require bravery.
Problem with the term bravery is that it depends absolutely on the manner of its usage. Misplaced, it results in autocracy. Precisely the phenomenon occurring with cricket administration of the nation in question. To the administrators there, a 'lot' of green stuff is at stake. And power. With a dash of leverage – exhilarating! Any other investments to be taken care of? Hardly. Who cares if the people who are paying them are investing a lot of emotional capital and precious personal time? They think they can get away with murder of that emotion. Insult to the cricket-awareness of a billion people is not a frightful proposition to them.
To come back and conclude our original point, national selectors are the first set of support staff to the international playing unit and this nation desperately deserved a set that would strive to keep the cricket out of the manipulations of that grotesque administration. Too bad they got a set that came out pathetic at judgement and integrity and comic at flexibility, rather reminiscent of a weathercock rusted to the point of requiring repair after each little gust of wind and also being used as a signpost with the same blurred message painted in all possible directions. And that message reads suspiciously like “To hell with the game”…
[Cross posted at "Amber Kaleidoscope"]

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