During their playing days, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly made a name for themselves as three legends of Indian cricket. One was ‘The Wall’, one was ‘Very Very Special’ while one was ‘Captain Courageous’. Many years after retirement, they are still actively involved in Indian cricket and, in fact, occupy extremely key positions. Ganguly is heading the BCCI as its President, Dravid, after a stint as India U-19 and India-A coach, has taken charge of the senior team. As for Laxman, he is heading the National Cricket Academy, having taken over from Dravid.
With three greats looking after Indian cricket, one would expect the game in the country to be well served. But is that the case, or is Indian cricket suffering because the legendary trio are failing to do their duty? The Indian team’s selection for the ongoing T20Is against South Africa as well as the upcoming tour of Ireland, where two T20Is will be played in Dubin, raises some uncomfortable questions regarding the selection policy of Indian cricket. And these queries need to be answered else Indian cricket will be the ultimate sufferer in the long run.
IPL only criteria for selection?
The way national squads are being selected lately, it seems doing well in the Indian Premier League (IPL) is the only criteria for selection. Look at the players chosen for the South Africa series and the Ireland series. Yes, both Umran Malik and Arshdeep Singh impressed in the IPL. Umran’s pace gives him that X-factor, while Arshdeep has a very good temperament, especially at the death. However, the harsh reality is that Umran has played only three first-class matches while Arshdeep has featured in six. And yet both of them are in the Indian team. With due credit to both, has IPL become a shortcut to entry into the Indian team?
And what about the top performers in India’s domestic circuit? Sarfaraz Khan has been sensational for Mumbai in this year’s Ranji Trophy. In five matches, he has amassed 803 runs at an average of 133.83 with three hundreds and two fifties and a best of 275. Rajat Patidar has scored over 500 runs in five matches for Madhya Pradesh, Shahbaz Ahmed has been a standout performer for Bengal with bat and ball, while Yashasvi Jaiswal has amassed 419 runs in two matches with three hundreds.
If we look at the bowling Shams Mulani of Mumbai has claimed 37 wickets in five matches at an average of under 15, which includes five five-fers and two 10-wicket match hauls. He has also chipped in with the bat, scoring four half-centuries. But how often have we heard his name being discussed in Indian cricketing circles? There are more names. Left-arm spinner Kumar Kartikeya has been stunning. He has claimed 27 wickets in five matches for Madhya Pradesh, playing a stellar role in them making their first Ranji Trophy final since 1998-99. A lot of these performances outshine those of the IPL stars who have been chosen. But do they matter?
Why are non-performing seniors not being questioned?
Another reason the younger generation is not getting a look in is that those in charge of Indian cricket have been promoting a star culture, where players have had the audacity to cross-question criticism even though they have failed to perform. Since January 2019, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane have scored only a combined five hundreds in international cricket (Pujara and Rahane play only Tests). And yet, whenever their places have been questioned, the answer by the team management has always been that ‘we are backing them because they have done it in the past’.
In short, Indian cricket has been surviving on past glory for a while now. When Ganguly, Dravid and Laxman had started failing in international cricket, they decided to quit without waiting to be pushed out. They should apply the same rule for non-performing seniors; otherwise, we will have a frustrating next generation of Indian cricketers who will keep toiling in domestic cricket without knowing if anyone is tracking their efforts.