The man who dared to say no to Sachin

Last Updated: Mon, Apr 01, 2013 16:30 hrs

"Sachin is too big for everyone," said former India cricket captain-turned-commentator Sourav Ganguly in December 2012 when there was talk about Sachin Tendulkar retiring from one-day cricket. "He has the ability and the right to call the shots," Ganguly added. 

Tendulkar did announce his retirement that month. But it wasn't his sense of timing that was behind his decision. It was a phone call from Sandeep Patil, the chairman of selectors in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

Patil apparently told Tendulkar that the selectors couldn't guarantee him a place in the team. The former India middle-order blaster said that the selectors would not drop the little maestro but it would be difficult to pick him in the team since the selectors had one eye on the 2015 World Cup. 

Tendulkar decided then to end his illustrious one-day career, even though he was keen to play one last series against Pakistan.

In the six months since he has been head of the national selection panel, Patil has shown that he cares for celebrity as much as he cared for the reputation of bowlers when he was a batsman. 

And it's not just the discreet call to Tendulkar. Without the courtesy shown to India's most popular cricketer ever, Patil has had the guts to drop popular figures like Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh from the national side. 

One of the untouchables in the past, whatever his form, Sehwag found himself being excluded from the team - first from the ODIs and then Tests. There wasn't even the face-saving reference to a "rest". Patil and his fellow selectors call a spade a spade.

Sehwag's form in Test matches has been really poor - in the last eight Test matches he has scored only 338 runs at an average of 22. His opening partner Gautam Gambhir has been on the wane as well for the last three years. In his last 26 Tests Gambhir, hasn't made a century and has scored about 1,300 runs at an average of 31.91. 

Harbhajan Singh has been an embarrassment on the field, even in domestic matches. Just on the basis of form, these star players deserved to be dropped - yet the selectors persisted with them. Till Patil came along. 

Out went Sehwag, Gambhir and Harbhajan, in marched Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and Ravindra Jadeja. And don't forget the gentle transition from Zaheer Khan to Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. After the show against the Australians, who's to say Patil's no-nonsense approach wasn't the winning one?

Even picking Shikhar Dhawan - a talented opener who has been knocking on the door of the team - was a bold move. Dhawan has been given chances in the ODI and T20 team in the last two years but has never nailed down his spot. But he scored a swashbuckling century in the third Test against Australia which more or less has sealed Sehwag's fate. 

With age not on his side - Sehwag will be 35 when India play their next Test match in December 2013 - it looks like the end of the road for the opener.

Patil took over as chairman of selectors in September 2012, having been chairman of the National Cricket Academy for two years prior to that. Patil isn't afraid to ruffle the feathers as he showed at a T20 match between India and England in December 2012 in Pune. 

Patil wasn't too happy with the seating arrangement as he was made to sit in one of the corporate boxes alongside other spectators. He wanted to sit in a private box with his fellow selectors and threatened to walk out unless they were moved to a private box. The officials had no choice but to comply with his request. 

Unlike his predecessor, Krishnamachari Srikkanth who loved to talk to the media, Patil has refrained from speaking to the media. Apparently his contract states that he isn't allowed to speak to the media on selection issues.

Patil's selectorial pragmatism was foreshadowed by his attitude as a batsman. Who can forget his 174 against Australia at Adelaide in 1981 against an attack that had a roaring Dennis Lille in his prime? In the previous Test, Patil had suffered concussions after being hit on the head by a bouncer. But he didn't let reputations come in the way of what he had to do on the pitch. Just as when he coached the unfancied Kenyan team to the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup in 2003.

The long drawn out melodrama of celebrity cricketers painfully prolonging their careers beyond their sell-by date because no one had the stomach to throw them out seems to have come to end under Sandeep Patil. And that cannot be too bad for Indian cricket.

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