One of the biggest talking points around the Indian team leading into the 2019 World Cup in England was the selection of Vijay Shankar ahead of Ambati Rayudu. The then chairman of selectors MSK Prasad had said before the tournament that Shankar had got the nod because of his “three-dimensional skills”.
This did not go down well with many as Rayudu had been axed at the last moment after being India’s first-choice No 4 batsman in One-Day International cricket for about two years prior to that. Rayudu himself had made his displeasure known by taking a dig at the selection committee on Twitter.
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Things went from bad to worse for the selection committee during the World Cup as they sent in the inexperienced Rishabh Pant and Mayank Agarwal as injury replacements. The five wise men of Indian cricket faced plenty of heat for their choices, with many questioning their credentials for the all-important job.
Now, Gautam Gambhir has said that the chairman of India’s selection committee must be someone who has enough experience of playing international cricket. The former India opener believes that’s the only way the selectors and players can have a healthy relationship.
Gambhir made this statement on Saturday on Star Sports’ show Cricket Connected. In a live conversation with Prasad and former India cricketer and chief selector Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Gambhir didn’t mince his words while addressing Prasad directly.
The three of them spoke at length about the role and responsibility of a selector, with Prasad, who has since been replaced by Sunil Joshi, offering explanations for the choices made by him and his committee.
Here is how the conversation went:
Srikkanth: Being a selector is a very difficult, thankless and complex job. I always ask one question – who can be the guy who has the talent, the scores and the ability to play cricket at the international level.
Prasad: A captain always has a say in the selection process. There are no two ways about it. He may not have a vote. Our bylaws clearly state that the captain has a say but he doesn’t have a vote in the selection process.
Gambhir: The time has come for the captain to be a selector as well. The captain and coach should be made the selectors, and the selectors should have no say in the playing XI. The captain and coach can’t shrug off the responsibility of the selected team. Whether it was Vijay Shankar or whoever got picked in the 2019 World Cup, some of the decisions were absolutely shocking. Not picking Ambati Rayudu in the squad. They couldn’t find a No 4 batsman. They had to identify one position and they couldn’t do it. Look what happened to Rayudu – you made him bat at No 4 for two years and just before the World Cup you decided to go with a ‘3D player’. Is that a statement we should get from the chairman of selectors?
Prasad: Let me clarify. Everyone in the top order was a pure batsman, none of them could bowl. Be it Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan or Virat Kohli. We thought that someone like Vijay Shankar, who bats at the top of the order, could be a helpful swing bowler in English conditions.
Srikkanth: I’m not trying to support Gautam or belittle you MSK, but I have to make one point. You could think that Vijay Shankar has a great domestic record but the international standard in completely different.
Prasad: I agree with what Srikkanth sir is saying about the difference in standard between domestic and international cricket, but you can’t always talk about experience. In the process of identifying players, some of them always get missed out.
Gambhir: Your chief selector has to be an experienced cricketer, who has played enough international cricket and who has seen the ups and downs at the highest level. The more you play, the more you understand players. You see what players are going through and understand their insecurities. If you have experience yourself, you can go up to a player who isn’t performing and tell him what you feel. And that’s the kind of relation you want. You want a relationship between players and selectors where there is openness.
Prasad: If a junior player is dropped, it’s easy to sit with him and convince him. But when a senior is dropped, it’s not easy for him, us or anybody to digest that fact. But we have to move on. The hardest thing for any cricketer is to know that he has been ignored and a new talent has taken place.