Now that India is firmly perched on top in the ICC Test rankings and are second in the ODI rankings there is praise being heaped all round. Not unexpectedly, the batsmen have received the lion's share of the encomiums but the bowlers too have garnered their share of praise. There have been plaudits too for Dhoni's leadership qualities – though he is still considered by many to be the Man with the Midas touch – while a few good things are said every now and then about coach Gary Kirsten.
But there is one set of people associated with the game who never get any praise even when the team is doing well. And, they are harshly criticized when the team fares badly as if it is only their fault. Oh yes, selectors have a thankless task. They cannot please everyone and are sitting ducks for potshots. Some of the comments on the selection of Indian teams can be downright uncharitable. A few years ago, a website carried a scathing article terming the selectors as 'five blind men'. The piece was so lop sided that it defied logic, betrayed lack of judgment and understanding and went beyond all decent norms. But then it is always easier to criticize than to praise and these days, it appears more fashionable too. After all, every cricket fan is an expert when it comes to picking a team so selector bashing is pretty common.
The selectors are aware that they are in a no-win situation. A few years ago, former Indian pace bowler TA Sekhar, then on the selection committee told me that he was well aware of what awaited him when he was nominated for the post. "I knew there would be only criticism. So I just developed a thick hide and now the adverse comments don't really bother me," he said.
Selectors and thick skins have necessarily to go together.
In selection matters, predictably enough most of the players choose themselves. It is the borderline cases – generally two or three - that cause problems, heartaches and controversies. This is where the arguments and harsh and unfair comments start. And, the critics' viewpoints are so one-sided that frequently one finds little sympathy for them. For example, many of them contend that this player or that should not be in the team or A or B should have been in the team. The ideal follow up would be to mention who the replacements should be or who A or B should come in for. Without the complete picture, their argument has no substance and is just nitpicking. Criticizing just for the sake of criticizing is something not to be considered seriously.
Do selectors ever receive praise? Oh, I suppose so in a grudging sort of way. But they are more remembered for their foibles rather than for their bold or imaginative choices. Does anyone remember the selector who pushed 19-year-old Dilip Vengsarkar into the national squad on the basis of one dashing century against Bedi and Prasanna in the Irani Trophy game in 1975?
Does anyone remember the selector who had the foresight to pick the relatively unknown Bedi, then only 20, on the basis of one good performance for the Board President's XI against West Indies in 1966? It was under the chairmanship of this much-maligned selector that both Chandrasekhar and Venkatraghavan were first given their India caps when they were still teenagers.
Does anyone recall the selector who boldly gave the reigns of captaincy to the young Nawab of Pataudi, then all of 20 years of age, to lead the Board President's XI side against the visiting MCC in 1961? Does anyone recall the chairmen of the selection committees who picked the two most successful ODI teams in Indian cricket history – the 1983 World Cup and the 1985 World Championship of Cricket? Does anyone remember the five wise men – and I mean this in a complimentary way – who picked the Indian team for the 1971 tours of West Indies and England, trips that marked a turning point in Indian cricket?
Who was the chairman of the selection committee when Sachin Tendulkar was given his big break at the age of 16 in 1989? Indian cricket has had examples of such inspired selections.
Unfortunately, these are hardly remembered but they are taken apart for their mistakes. This is not to say that selectors are above criticism. Some of their decisions can defy logic. For example, quite frequently they hire and fire without giving the players enough chances.
Not surprisingly, Indian cricket has the maximum number of players who have played in only one or two Tests, or a similar number of ODIs. Sometimes, the player is dropped even without getting a single chance to prove himself and this is really quite bizarre.
By all means hurl brickbats at the selectors at such times but let us also present them with bouquets for bold and imaginative selections.