The Madan Lal-led Cricket Advisory Committee that picked former India cricketer Sunil Joshi to replace MSK Prasad as chairman of selectors spoke to the press after the decision was made. Lal was asked many questions by the gathered media and one of those questions was whether skipper Virat Kohli’s strength of personality was a factor in their final choice.
“We have this factor the most in our mind,” said Lal. “Our captain is a high-performing player. We have kept in mind that we find somebody who can communicate with him because, in the end, it is the captain who has to run the team.”
He added: “Captain matters a lot to the team and so it is important how you communicate with him. What is gone is in the past, the two selectors that we picked had the best answers on this topic.”
While it is great to have someone who can communicate with a skipper, who generally doesn’t listen to anyone or anything on the outside, should that truly be the biggest factor?
In fact, given how Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri function, one of the biggest requirements for the new chief selector should have been whether he can play the devil’s advocate.
Kohli and Shastri are convinced that every decision they take is correct and it is great to have that strength of conviction. But that doesn’t mean they always get things right – almost, no one can do that. That is precisely where the chief selector can make a difference.
Sunil Joshi, who played 15 Tests and 69 ODIs for India, will have the unenviable task of calling out Shastri and Kohli (in private or in public). If he does do that, he may get criticised by fans because of his own career (as the outgoing chief selector MSK Prasad so often was) or Shastri may come up with a new version of ‘people should look back at their career before commenting on Dhoni.’
Shastri, who played 80 Tests and 150 ODIs, and Kohli, who has played 86 Tests, 248 ODIs and 82 T20Is, may well feel that they more about what the team needs than Joshi. And if that is the case, then how should the chief selector deal with it?
The selectors do a fair bit of hard work through the course of a season. They watch matches, they scout players, they compare the big talents to everyone else in the country and then, they need to plan. But more importantly, they are looking at things from outside Kohli and Shastri’s bubble.
For instance, Ajinkya Rahane’s lack of confidence and form sticks out like a sore thumb. But Kohli continues to believe in him.
“Firstly, Jinx is one of those players who has been very solid for us in Test cricket,” said Kohli in the post-match conference after the second Test against New Zealand. “I don’t look at averages and numbers. It’s about impact performances. You know whether he is been able to make impact performances for the team and the answer for me is yes. Whenever we have required important performance from him, more often than not he has delivered in that regard.”
Now, this would be the situation where an empowered selector can help. Kohli likes what Rahane brings to the table but is that what the team needs? What Kohli wants and what the team needs may not always be the same thing.
In an interview with Mumbai Mirror, former selector Prasad pointed out that the selector on tour is merely a tourist.
“From the South Africa tour [early 2018], the selector on call on overseas tours does not have a say in the touring selection committee. It was there previously. The best thing would be to have the selector in the touring committee. Because he would bring a dispassionate view in the selection of the playing XI,” said Prasad.
A dispassionate view is important and this is exactly why the selector’s sole requirement should not be to just keep Kohli happy. They need to think on their feet and veto Kohli and Shastri if need be. In many ways, having a selector who can stand his ground against Kohli might be more important than one who can ‘communicate’.
And in the long run, if it means India winning more matches ‘away’ from home, it all becomes worth it as well.