To the astonishment of many, Krishnamachari Srikkanth finished his term as chairman of The Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI’s) selection committee without frolic or fanfare. For a little over three years, he had been in the headlines consistently—as much because Indian cricket is perennially newsworthy as his own penchant for making news with his choice of players or words.
I must confess to a bias upfront. I have been a Srikkanth fan since he was a university-level cricketer in the late 1970s, and in more than three decades since, the fondness has not diminished.
At all times, I have found him approachable and likeable. He does not mince words—though sometimes he is capable of making a hash of their meaning—but he is also willing to sit down and debate a point of view. I have also found him without the residual frustration that seems to hang over former cricketers after they’ve finished their playing careers.
This does not mean I am impervious to his shortcomings. He was criticized—justifiably—for also fronting the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) team as their brand ambassador. It could be argued that conflict of interest in Indian cricket is a grey area, what with so many people involved, but Srikkanth could have chosen to be a path-breaker.
How will his performance as selector be assessed? As a batsman, Srikkanth lived dangerously, indeed diabolically. Nothing could alter his sense of derring-do, not even consistent failures, especially when his reflexes were slowing. He just wouldn’t (or couldn’t) adapt.
As a selector, though, I found him to be quite the opposite: more conservative than risk-taking, preferring the settled, predictable path to innovation, behind the curve in forward planning. The troubles over the retirements of Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman—and Sachin Tendulkar going ahead—for instance, should have been foreseen some time back and budgeted for accordingly.
But Srikkanth and his tenure make for an interesting case study, not just in cricket but also in Indian sport. For a job that most people imagine demands a great deal of gravitas and circumspection, his cavalier, in-your-face ways seemed a gross misfit. Where such approach had won him widespread adulation as a player, as a selector it generally earned him opprobrium. He was perceived as taking an onerous job lightly. This was not necessarily fact, of course, but fit in with the stereotype that had emerged in his playing days and which he had never been able to tackle.
Srikkanth always appeared restless, fidgety and on edge. He could be pithy or outrageous, especially in his interactions with the media. But it is simplistic in the extreme to think that this also meant he was a loose thinker; that there was only madness, no method to his ways.
It is too easily forgotten, though, that by education and vocation (for a substantial part of his life), he is an engineer, given to precision thinking in planning and execution. There is no reason to believe that he thought exactly as he batted—with abandon. If the results of his tenure are mixed, it is simply because sport offers no guarantees.
The more significant derivative aspect of Srikkanth’s era is that the selector’s post is now no longer honorary. He was head of the first panel which was paid (handsome) money and, obviously, more accountability was only to be expected.
Going ahead, the job of the selectors is not easy, and not only because they are so much more in the limelight. The sport has exploded in the country, the number of players is humongous, the talent levels have improved substantially and the money, phenomenally so. All of this suggests that Indian cricket should be the best in the world.
It is a travesty of sorts that Srikkanth might be judged by what has happened in Indian cricket in the last 15-odd months rather than the 18 months that preceded these. Before the whitewashes against England and Australia, it is pertinent to remember that India became the No. 1 Test team and also won the 50-over World Cup.
No job of this nature comes without brickbats. But it would be grossly unfair if Srikkanth does not get some kudos too.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
Write to Ayaz at email@example.com.