It is one of the vagaries of Indian cricket that instead of the focus being on the new chairman of the selection committee Sandeep Patil the talk is all about the man who has been removed from it. Mohinder Amarnath was tipped to be chief selector. His immense knowledge and vast experience seemed to have made him a sure choice.
Unfortunately Amarnath is also outspoken and never one to hold back his punches. The Indian Cricket Board has over the years generally been wary of personalities who speak out their minds. So perhaps it is not a surprise after all that the 62-year-old batsman who figured in 69 Tests and 85 ODIs over a 20-year period with distinction is out of favour.
Amarnath had been a selector for only a year and convention has it that a selector can serve for three years at least and a maximum of four. It seems incongruous that a man of his credentials should be restricted to just one year on the committee. But then as is well known Amarnath is known to air his views firmly. In this he has been a chip off the old block for his father the legendary Lala too cared two hoots for authority.
Being a 'yes' man was certainly not his forte and his son has apparently inherited the same qualities. Nearly a quarter of a century ago he famously called the selectors "a bunch of jokers" when he was not considered for selection. When this was pointed out to him when he was named a selector last year, Amarnath could only smile wryly.
But any hopes that he had mellowed with age were quickly dispersed with when he attended the selection committee meetings. He didn’t mind if his opinions were at variance with his co-selectors and matters came to a head when he was firmly of the view that MS Dhoni should be replaced as captain following the double disaster in England and Australia.
At the meeting ahead of the Test series against New Zealand last month, he apparently suggested that Dhoni should be replaced by Virender Sehwag. The selection committee chairman K Srikkanth was against a change in the captaincy and he was supported by the three other selectors. Reports have it that Amarnath even threatened to quit. While this remained only a threat, his was a lone voice in the wilderness. In a way he has paid the price for being a dissenter.
That is the only way to analyse Amarnath’s sacking for one cannot depend on the BCCI for any clarification on such issues. Board officials are hardly forthcoming when it comes to handling contentious issues. Take the reaction of BCCI chief N Srinivasan for example.
Questioned about Amarnath being dropped, he said that while the term of the selectors is for a maximum of four years each selector has to be elected annually. "It is not that it is a four-year term and he has served only one year" said Srinivasan. Finally he covered up the subject conveniently by saying that the BCCI wanted a new-look selection committee "which I think we have now."
In a way Srinivasan is right for it is a completely new set-up and if the controversy concerning Amarnath is set aside then one can say with conviction that none can question the credentials of the new chairman. Patil has had an interesting career from his days as a buccaneering batsman to coach of various international teams including India and a stint as head of the National Cricket Academy.
Few can match the 56-year-old’s knowledge and his swashbuckling image covers his intense grasp of international cricket. He has kept abreast of the changes something that was seen during his days as NCA director. As coach his finest hour was steering Kenya most unexpectedly to the semifinals of the 2003 World Cup in South Africa – the first time an associate member had made it so far in the premier competition.
Three of the four other selectors have played international cricket. Roger Binny, like Patil a hero of the 1983 World Cup triumph in England, represented the country with some distinction in 27 Tests and 72 ODIs in the period 1979 - 1987.
Vikram Rathour has had a more chequered career playing just six Tests and seven ODIs in the 1996 – 1997 period but a first class average of virtually 50 puts his cricketing credentials in proper perspective. Saba Karim played just one Test – against Bangladesh in 2000 - though he did figure in 34 ODIs from 1997 to 2000. On TV however Karim comes across as an articulate and well informed person.
Rajinder Singh Hans is the only one among the quintet not to have played international cricket but then from Central Zone generally non-Test players have figured on the committee with the zone having produced comparatively few international cricketers.
Hans’ credentials are the 340 wickets he has taken with his left arm spinners in first class cricket. He has also served as a junior national selector. He was also coach of his home state Uttar Pradesh when they won the Ranji Trophy in 2005-06 and has also coached Jharkhand and Tripura.
The new selection committee takes over at a vital juncture in Indian cricket. The team is going through a transitional phase with the retirement of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. It is also going to be a busy season with a number of Tests, ODIs and T20 internationals being played against various opposing sides.
There are also a number of gifted young cricketers around and it is hoped that Patil and his team will make the right moves, give enough opportunities to deserving talent to display their skills even as they don’t go by the reputation of some senior players who may be continuing in the Indian team on past glory.