By Vincent Sunder
This is about India vs Australia. Not in the Commonwealth Bank (CB) Series, but outside the playing field where the respective chairmen of the selection panel (or committees) spoke out on the selections made by them - India for the upcoming Asia Cup and, Australia for their tour of the West Indies.
Chairman of Australia's national selection panel John Inverarity explained in detail the selections and non-selections for the upcoming West Indies tour, in particular explaining the situations concerning Shaun Marsh and Shane Watson. Whether the reasons were acceptable or not, the chairman was professional, specific and to the point in his explanation. The non-inclusion of young sensation Pat Cummins - out of the side after his magnificent debut in South Africa - was explained in clear detail. "For a fast bowler to be fit for a Test match there are workload issues, so you can't go into a Test match unless you've had the proper build-up of workloads, and he's not going to make it.” Categoric and no rhetoric.
Now let’s get a glimpse of the tamasha, which is what cricket press conferences in India are, seen from an outsider’s perspective.
There are some interesting notes from “Indian Summers”, the book written by former Indian coach John Wright about his experiences with the Indian media. “My first press conference was even more mind-blowing”. “..at least 60 media people swarmed all over us (John Wright and Sourav Ganguly), as if we were the story of the decade. A couple of cameramen accused each other of getting in the way and traded punches”. “…the cricket media was a many-headed monster, and if I didn’t handle it right, it would chew me up and spit me out”. Towards the end of his book, Wright says, “After we’d won inPakistan, I was the best coach in the world, according to the Indian newspapers. A year later when we drew the Test series and lost the ODIs, I was back in the pack”.
India’s next coach, Greg Chappell notes in his recent autobiography “Fierce Focus”, “….news television channels had people out there every minute looking for fresh-breaking news, anything and everything they could turn into a headline. The constant intrusion and desperation of the Indian media would beleaguer me throughout my tenure. There were new TV stations breaking ridiculous stories, treating rumour and innuendo as hard news, all because of the competitive pressure of the news environment”
So how does the Indian national selection committee chairman, Krishnamachari Srikkanth, deal with this eternally news-hungry media?
The focus of the media was on the selections, and appeared to be in particular about the ‘resting’ of Virendra Sehwag and Zaheer Khan when Srikkanth came before the media after selecting the Indian team for the Asia Cup. Some of the sound bytes appeared to be questions as to why Sachin Tendulkar had been chosen and Sehwag dropped. Srikkanth begins his explanations, “and I think it is purely on the (pause) what do you call (pause) injury grounds that both Zaheer Khan and Virendra Sehwag have been rested, otherwise as you all know…..” “and I think that is the kind of a team we have selected and we are confident. OK we have done well, and yesterday’s match…….”. The incoherent rambling continued as Srikkanth switched on from selection matters on to the last game against Sri Lanka for the next few minutes, speaking of “the extraordinary game”, the “do or die game” and the “fantastic team spirit….” blaming umpiring for the tied game (that we should have won), whilst also touching upon the Test scenario where “we were battered a bit in England (?)”!!!
As the questions began to rain again on the non-selections, Srikkanth went rambling further, “It is in black and white papers, so those things need not be shown to you, they are all internal matters, and there is nothing to speculate about, I can assure you and 500% assure you honestly that nobody has been dropped, I mean Sehwag and Zaheer Khan it is purely only on injury grounds.”
The icing on the cake came up soon. One is not sure what provoked the already beleaguered Srikkanth, but he snapped. “Boss, you shut up now, OK? You don’t talk like that now, alright? OK that’s enough. We are talking of about fitness here, right?”
The conduct of the national selection committee chairman thereafter took a comical turn, when he switched to Hindi, “Aap aise googly bolke bolke baat karega tho”, “aap mere ko unglee dalega tho”.
There certainly must have been something provocative from some journalist, but it was appalling to see the chairman losing his temper. The selections themselves, on the face of it, do not appear to be a matter of zonal trading. The current 17-member squad has been pruned down to 15, with Yusuf Pathan and Ashok Dinda coming into the squad and Parthiv Patel, Umesh Yadav, Virendra Sehwag and Zaheer Khan not on for Bangladesh.
Was this a case of an individual handling a role that he was completely incapable of? Incoherent sentences, straying away completely from the topic on hand, struggling for words, lame justifications, playing down pathetic performances, mistaking either the trainer or the doctor (who reportedly provided the fitness report) for a physiotherapist. India’s former dashing opening batsman was unfortunately a sad spectacle, and it was unbecoming behavior on the part of the chairman of the national side to have handled an important press briefing in so unprofessional a manner.
Was there a preparation amongst the selectors before Srikkanth addressed the media? Were the questions not anticipated, and appropriate answers discussed, drafted? Does the selection committee or the Board feel that it is necessary for a professional media briefing for a game that is the biggest passion for millions in the country?
Rolling back to one of the most shocking media briefings which happened in November 1984, with notes from Christian Ryan’s biography of Kim Hughes titled “Golden Boy”. Kimberly Hughes, captaining Australia decided to step down after the Brisbane Test and informed his team manager Bob Merriman on the morning of the last day of his decision and to get hold of Greg Chappell, a selector at that time. It finally boiled down to Hughes drafting a very lengthy speech, when Merriman reminded him that the game was in progress and there was an important and big sponsorship announcement after the game. As debutant David Boon prolonged the game with a injury-ridden body against the West Indian attack, Merriman edited Hughes’s statement, changing ‘inuendo to innuendo’, “credability to credibility”, “gentleman to gentlemen” and importantly inserted two words to make “the media” read as “sections of the media” to ensure it didn’t offend the friends Hughes had among the media. When Hughes finally broke down in tears midway through his speech, it fell on Merriman to complete reading the resignation speech. A sensitive event, an emotional departure – though Merriman and Chappell could not talk Hughes out of his decision, they thought through what had to be conveyed, how it had to be conveyed and in the ultimate analysis, a media relations disaster was averted!
Expecting professionalism or even diligent preparation may be too much to ask of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Perhaps, all post-selection media conferences can be done away with one simple solution. As with the Indian Premier League (IPL) auctions, the BCCI can simply have a live broadcast of the selection proceedings! No national interest or national security is compromised, the stakeholders of the game can exactly know how the selection proceedings happen, and if we can know which franchise bid how much for a player, there is no harm in knowing which selectors backed or voted for which player! And the Chairman need not SHUT UP any media person and make for a sorry spectacle!
(Vincent Sunder aspired to play Test cricket, but had to struggle to play .gully. cricket! He managed a league side to title triumph in the KSCA tournaments. He was debarred from umpiring in the gully games after he once appealed vociferously for a caught-behind decision when officiating as an umpire! After two decades in the corporate sector, he became an entrepreneur with the objective of being able to see cricket matches on working days as well. Vincent gets his .high. from cricket books and cricket videos and discussing cricket)