"I don't believe in seniors and juniors in cricket. The criteria, as far as this committee goes, have always been the form and fitness," says Dilip Vengsarkar in an interview to Devendra Pandey of The Indian Express.
During his two-year reign as the chairman of the national selection committee, Dilip Vengsarkar has seen several ups and downs - from the World Cup debacle in the Caribbean to the Twenty20 world championship win.
Since his tenure coincided with the much-talked about transition in Indian cricket, Vengsarkar and his committee always walked the tightrope as far as the senior-junior debate went. A day after being replaced by Krishnamachari Srikkanth as the chairman, Vengsarkar spoke to Devendra Pandey.
What would you say your most inspired selection in the last two years was?
Well, almost every selection was challenging as we had to keep winning big matches, while inducting young players for the future at the same time. Every time the committee met, we picked what we thought was the best combination. That they delivered match after match gave us tremendous satisfaction.
Which was the most challenging selection meeting of this tenure?
I guess the one where we picked the squad for the Twenty20 world championship. Till then India had not had a T20 tournament at the domestic level, neither had they participated in any international events. It was a new format and the selection was done purely on gut feeling. I was with the Indian team in England at the time, and we had a tele-conference to pick that team.
How difficult was the period after the World Cup debacle?
It was tough. Before the team left for the West Indies, they had been rated as one of the contenders to win. That was not to be. In the aftermath, the players had to go through hell.
In India, the expression of the fans has always been extreme - when you win, they put you on a pedestal and when you lose, they burn your effigies. But that's part and parcel of the game.
Were you surprised with the Twenty20 World Cup victory?
I knew we had an excellent chance, for in such a tournament, early momentum is very important. The first game against Pakistan provided that and from there on, the team did not look back. It was a tremendous performance, especially considering that India were the last to approve the Twenty20 format at the ICC.
The fast bowling resources have looked strong over the last three years...
Yes, there are quite a few upcoming fast bowlers who could be ready for international cricket very soon.
However, non-stop cricket and injuries will be key factors and the selectors will have to use them (the bowlers) judiciously.
What needs to be done to deal with the issue of finding world-class spinners?
That's one area the BCCI will have to address urgently. I guess the National Cricket Academy will have to come up with a programme to unearth talent at the grassroot level and groom it.
Which of the players you selected disappointed you the most?
I don't think any player disappointed me. We selected players only after deliberating their credentials at length and most of the time, the selected players delivered.
Do players in the age group of 26-30 years on the domestic circuit have hope, or is the U-19 pool the way to go?
I always believe that as long as anybody playing first class cricket is performing, he stands a chance. I don't believe in age limits because in cricket there can be late bloomers.
Did the ICL cut down the pool of players?
No, I don't think so.
What were the big gains from the IPL?
There are many, for it was a great platform for domestic players to show their talent. They got tremendous confidence by just being with the greats of the game and learning from them.
The most bitter selection fight in your tenure as chairman?
It's likely that in the history of Indian cricket, mine was the only selection committee where we did not have any arguments.
We were always on the same wavelength. I had made it very clear from the start that we had to rise above regional biases and select the best possible combination. Not once did we have to go in for a vote to select a player. I made sure that the atmosphere in the meetings was jovial and they all responded brilliantly.
Do you regret any selection?
No, I don't.
Do you think that there should be a dialogue with senior players before they are dropped?
It definitely helps as they know where they stand.
Do you think that the transition in Indian cricket was mishandled? When the time has come to replace the seniors, the players on the bench aren't scoring runs.
I don't believe in seniors and juniors in cricket. The criteria, as far as this committee goes, have always been the form and fitness.
How tough was it to drop Kaif after he averaged 56 in the West Indies Test series or Ganguly when he was the top-scorer over the last 20-month period?
In every selection committee meeting we used to deliberate every decision at length.
As far as dropping and selecting a player is concerned, we always did it on the basis of form and fitness of the players in question.
Big picks: Revisiting the landmarks
On Kumble, the Test captain: It was an incredible decision. After all, it was a new captain, that too for a tour of Australia. We knew he had tons of experience in Australian conditions. He had performed well on almost all the previous tours there. He did a wonderful job.
On Dravid giving up captaincy: It came as a big surprise, for he never gave any indication during the tour of England. We were caught unawares. Every individual has the right to do what he feels is best for him or the team.
On Ganguly's comeback: Ganguly is a determined player. When we selected him for the tour of South Africa, he looked in good touch and was hungry for success. Besides, we needed experience to combat the South Africans. He played remarkably well.
On the emergence of Rohit Sharma: Rohit is talented. However, he must realise that he needs to be consistent to be successful at the highest level. I am sure he will mature with time.
On Dhoni, the captain: Dhoni has great body language and a very keen cricketing brain. He is intelligent, besides being a very good communicator. He has the ability to lead from the front and for that he is highly respected by his team mates. I spoke to some of the seniors in the team about Dhoni too. Till then he had not led even his state team. But all the selectors felt that here was a man for the future.