The Olympics have robbed India’s chief selector of his moment of glory – he has presided over his last selection meeting and the news was greeted with barely a murmur. But he surely deserves better.
Srikkanth's panel, appointed in 2008, was the first-ever fully paid BCCI selection committee. They earned Rs 25 lakhs per annum to begin with and that was upped to Rs 40 lakhs in December 2009. The move was intended to make the selectors “accountable.”
But instead of that, all we heard was this:
“Boss, shut up! You keep quiet. Aap aise googly bol-bol ke baat karega toh mai bhi gussa ho jaega. Aap mere ko ungli daloge toh mere se kya expect karte ho,” said Srikkanth a few months back.
Indeed, the issue was that we expected a lot from India’s ‘professional’ selectors but all we got was one googly after another from Srikkanth and Co.
Remember the match against South Africa in 2010, when Rohit Sharma was injured on the morning of the match and his place was taken by Wriddhiman Saha – simply because the selectors had forgotten to include any other batsmen in the set-up.
Srikkanth’s response on a TV channel was telling: “As the chairman of the selection panel, I am willing to own up responsibility. It's a lesson learnt, and from now on we will not select players who are not 100% fit...”
So till then, they were content picking up half-fit guys and hoping that they would recover in time for the match. But the lesson wasn’t learnt very well – because they did the same thing by picking Zaheer Khan for a tour of England last year even when he had obvious fitness issues.
After India’s failures in England and Australia, the chief selector came up with another gem: “In subcontinent conditions, these guys will do well.”
The rumoured fight between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virender Sehwag during the tour of Australia saw the latter being dropped for the Asia Cup but Srikkanth thought it fit to convince us otherwise: “I can 500 percent assure you honestly that nobody’s been dropped”
He also managed to make stating the obvious seem like a work of art. After India’s early exit at the ICC World T20 in the West Indies: “There were probably a few areas where we'll probably have to rework, correct ourselves and then come back in the game. Like playing short-pitched bowling, practising more on that. That will help.”
Thank you for telling us something that a generation of Indian cricketers and fans have known for a long time.
He also proved himself to be an excellent diplomat. After the trashing India received in England – they did not win a single match.
“We had a pretty young side in England and we did well, although we didn’t win any match but that was more to do with the injuries and rain, or otherwise we could have won a few matches at least,” said Srikkanth. ‘We did well.’
And during his tenure, he also managed to prove that he is a good dad and in India, family matters. That earned him a few brownie points with president N Srinivasan, who was then the secretary. He managed to somehow squeeze his son, Anirudha Srikkanth, into India’s Emerging Players Squad that went on tour to Australia.
Srikkanth said the selection had been arrived at with “consensus”, and Srinivasan told that media he did not talk about selection matters. One of the few times, we’ve seen Srikkanth remain silent.
Srikkanth is also a brand ambassador of the Chennai Super Kings IPL team and his dual role raised a conflict-of-interest debate. But Srikkanth’s only response to the controversy was – as he told The Indian Express – “Yes, I am. I don’t want to talk about it, you ask the board about this issue,” he said. Silence again.
But perhaps his biggest failing was in refusing to plan for the retirements of the seniors like Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar. The juniors have just not been groomed to take over and Srikkanth’s tired rhetoric throughout has been: “The seniors can decide for themselves.”
Of course, it was during Srikkanth’s tenure that India won the cricket World Cup in 2011. But one can’t help but think that the victory had more to do with the players than with astute selections. They also managed to pick Rahul Sharma after he had not even had a decent run in Ranji trophy. Of course, the last selection meeting was true to form as well – Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Laxmipathy Balalji and Piyush Chawla all made a return to the team for the World T20.
Srikkanth’s legacy as a selector is of chaos -- random selections and strange reasoning accompanying each of them. And for a man who comes across as one who loves to talk, he will sadly be remembered for his silences.
Wonder if someone doing ungli would have got him to break his silence on the difficult questions as well...