The vicissitudes of life could not have been made evident to Rohit Sharma and S. Sreesanth more dramatically than through the events of the past few days. In the Indian Premier League (IPL) auctions, Sharma fetched $2.1 million (Rs9.5 crore) from Mumbai Indians and Sreesanth raked in just under a million dollars as the talismanic player for the Kochi franchise.
A little over a week later, however, both these talented young players found themselves in the rubbish heap after the Indian team for the World Cup had been chosen. Do the IPL franchise owners know something about them that the Indian selectors don’t?
Left out: Rohit Sharma (left) and S. Sreesanth got the attention of IPL owners, but not the Indian selectors. Hindustan Times
Many serious cricket followers were not amused with chief selector Krishnamachari Srikkanth’s pleas to the public that they should send out positive vibes to the Indian team chosen for the World Cup. Several questions were raised by the selection which demanded more cogent answers than just pop psychology-cum-spiritualism.
The team clearly seems a batsman short, for instance, so why was Sharma snubbed? What happens if there is injury or illness to any among the top six in the order? Didn’t prudence demand that there should have been a back-up wicketkeeper too, perhaps Parthiv Patel or Dinesh Karthik who can also bat and are, therefore, invaluable “two-in-ones”? Why not punt on Sreesanth, now finding the discipline and form to support his talent?
Given the passion that cricket arouses in India, Srikkanth’s “everything’s fine, now let’s all create an aura of positive energy to win” seems like puerile mumbo-jumbo. But I think there might be more truth value in this apparently casual statement than is widely believed.
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Before I come to that, however, a bit about the man is in order. Srikkanth is among the more endearing cricketers I have known. He is unpretentious and chirpy, often brazen enough to call a spade a shovel and sometimes flippant enough to call a shovel a tablespoon.
When he became chief selector in late 2008, the appointment did not meet with universal validation in Indian cricket. I know of several of his peers who sniggered that he lacked the gravitas for the job. Too cavalier, they said, even reckless.
I suspect this image was a hangover from his playing days. An engineer by qualification, Srikkanth was anything but precision-driven in his approach in the middle. In his debut Test—against England in Mumbai in 1981-82—he made a blob in the first innings and was run out for 13 when he casually strolled away from the crease before the ball was “dead”.
Such thoughtlessness was seen to extend to most areas of his cricket. His carefree batting—imagine a watered down version of Virender Sehwag—was considered irresponsible even if it was exciting and his tenure as Test player earned him perhaps more censure than approval from critics and experts.
Mavericks were not readily endured in Indian cricket those days, but to be honest, Srikkanth lacked even half the consistency of Sehwag to convince his detractors otherwise. In limited overs cricket, he was a major player with his derring-do and arguably the most influential batsman after Kapil Dev in India’s 1983 World Cup triumph.
Not good enough still to qualify him for the job of selector, was the argument against him, if it were not for the convoluted politics of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), in which zonal representation matters more than just the five best men to make up the committee. That, however, was hardly Srikkanth’s fault. If the rapid rise of the Indian team in the International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings since he became chief selector is any indication, then perhaps the “positive energy” syndrome he talks about may have worked.
I am being facetious, of course, but interestingly, historically, India’s fortunes in World Cup cricket have defied conventional logic. In 1983, for instance, to predict that Kapil Dev’s team would win the title was challenging sanity. But the impossible happened; India beat the mighty West Indies and the cricket world was turned upside down.
The fact is Kapil’s Devils, now revered and feted with gusto every four years for their historic achievement, were widely criticized as a rag-tag and bobtail side when they set out for England. Conversely, India had terrific teams in both the 1987 and 1996 World Cups. Mind you, both these tournaments were played in the subcontinent where conditions would suit the home team, but both times India lost in the semi-finals.
Again, in the T20 format, for the inaugural World Championship in South Africa, India were the last country to agree to play. To prove its clout in international cricket, the BCCI sent out a team not only sans superstar Sachin Tendulkar but also Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman and Anil Kumble—all of whom were still in their prime. Against all expectations, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team triumphed and turned the cricket world downside up once again.
There is no gainsaying the fact that meticulous planning and perceptive team selection are of enormous value in sports. But in a major tournament, unlikely heroes are frequently thrown up and the luck factor cannot be discounted entirely.
My team, which I picked before the selectors met earlier this week, had both Sharma and Sreesanth in the squad, and not Piyush Chawla and Ashish Nehra. But in hindsight, I am prepared to accept that the committee has done a decent job. Some luck Dhoni and Co. will need. Ah yes, positive energy from supporters too, as Srikkanth says.
Now where have I kept the beads for the winning mantra?
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
Write to Ayaz at email@example.com