One of the fundamental shortcomings of the Indian selection system is the lack of a comprehensive scouting mechanism, or a talent spotting, assessment and development index which must definitely assist the selectors. How do we go about this football style scouting? Fairly simple, actually. Forty top and willing former first-class cricketers (not zonal, by the by), paid handsomely to watch domestic cricket, compile reports and hand it over to a superior authority i.e. the selection panel who then take decisions. Basically, what this mechanism will ensure is this - the national selectors watch fringe players, while these paid scouts attend matches where they could identify a large pool of talent waiting to get to the fringes. With a careful emphasis on talent, it also ensures that a wider array of cricketers, with different skill-sets are being watched and not just a handful of those who might be in the reckoning for the elevation, as it stands today.
The emphasis on scouting might also ensure that age-group cricketers won’t exactly go unnoticed and upon consistent performance can move up the hierarchy. Also, with a great degree of hope, this should signal the end of political, often regional and zonal interference, with something close to three or four scouts from zones and associations different from the participating teams watching a single match and assessing a single player. For example, if player X from Mumbai is playing against Tamil Nadu, he’d be watched by these scouts from Karnataka, Delhi, Assam and say, Hyderabad. Ditto for player Y from Tamil Nadu. Four quality, unbiased assessments based on parameters that range from ability, performance, character should be handed over to the NSP for consideration. If such a mechanism can emerge and evolve, with a top-class network of skilled scouts, Indian cricket can only move forward than stagnate (as it is today).
Communication, in my view is another fundamental aspect of selection. But that again, stems from a certain direction, a certain policy which lends itself into these plans. Today, we’re witness to a rather speculative discourse about this transition business and a major problem in this regard is the apparent lack of communication. When the Rahul Dravid retirement rumour mill started gathering storm, the BCCI shot back with a sardonic one-liner which summed up the cluelessness of their approach, “The BCCI is not aware of any retirement plan,” they said - which to me is precisely the problem. The initial stage of the “transition” does not begin with the identification of potential replacements, but sitting down, one-on-one and discussing individual plans with the ones being replaced. That’s the least these legends deserve.
Again, not a talking to, but a two-way communication street where both sides put their plans on the table and hopefully, a productive conversation that gives the selectors a sense of direction to take. Something like what Manchester United does with the likes of Ryan Giggs, sit him down around November-December, discuss where he’s at come April-May and see if, at 37, he could enrich the first-team than let them down. Frankly speaking, this process, with regard to Indian cricket, should have begun once the euphoria of the World Cup faded away, and a sense of reality dawned on these selectors. They failed to read the obvious signs of decline, persisted with what they claimed to believe, and sadly, paid the price.
The second aspect of communication is closer home, actually - where the selectors need to identify and work closely with the replacement players, a bigger pool of cricketers - “the fringe”. How? Set targets, let them know they’re in their plans, keep telling them about what’s expected of these cricketers and track their progress to know if they’re good enough. This is not to put pressure, but just letting some of those lads know that they’re a step away from Indian colours could not just motivate them, but positively influence their performances also.
At the cost of repetition, I think, the BCCI must take this rather tumultuous period in India’s Test cricket fortunes to overhaul - not just its structures or its system, but its thinking. Personnel changes are okay, and in all probability, this selection committee might just resign for all you know, but as always, you’ll have another bunch of muppets coming in and making the same mistakes. As amply highlighted before, the problem is not personnel, but policy (or the lack of it). It’s time we started thinking.