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August 18, 1998


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Come September...

By A Correspondent

What was, for a lot of cricket lovers, merely a dream last year could well become reality this year. When, in mid-September, the national cricket selection committee reconstitutes itself.

For those who came in late, the Board of Control for Cricket in India first toyed with the idea of reconstituting the much-reviled committee last year, following muted allegations that a couple of the selectors were on the take, and had in fact demanded money from some national players to ensure their inclusion in the squad to take part in the Asia Cup, in Sri Lanka.

But then came probably the most politicisied, and bitterly contested, elections in BCCI history. And with the ruling axis of Jagmohan Dalmiya-J Y Lele-Raj Singh Dungarpur desperate to stave off the challenge of the I S Bindra-Sunil Dev combine, the resulting horse-trading meant that the status quo ante was maintained.

This time round, the Dalmiya group is well entrenched -- and anxious to stall possible criticism by cleaning up its act. Another spur for the ruling combine is the fact that increasingly, there have been attempts to dilute, if not entirely negate, the BCCI's autonomy -- the recent, ongoing face-off between the board and the Indian Olympic Association being just one indication. The last thing the board figures it needs, in this situation, is to give its enemies a stick to beat it with -- and the performance of the selection committee is the biggest stick there possibly could be.

Making it easier for the board to carry out operation reform is the fact that two selectors -- chairman Kishen Rungta, and East Zone's Sambaran Bannerjee -- will complete their prescribed tenure this September.

In this context, the Rules Revision Committee comprising Dungarpur, Lele, Jyoti Bajpai, S K Nair, N Subba Rao, Ratnakar Shetty, Bibhuti Das and Ranbir Singh (with the ubiquitous Dalmiya present as a 'special invitee') met in Calcutta last week and, among other things, considered a comprehensive reconstitution of the national selection committee.

The meeting considered, and finalised certain proposals, which it will place before the AGM at its next meeting in mid-September, for ratification. The proposals include:

1) A radical shift from the present five member selection committee, to a three-member one, which has been mooted by critics and former cricketers for a while now.

2) The redifining of criteria for eligibility to become a selector. Thus, a potential candidate will need to have experience of 20 Tests, or 50 Ranji Trophy matches, to qualify (as against the present norm which says any first class player, of whatever experience, can become a selector).

Further, it was proposed that any player, present or past, having business dealings with the BCCI or the state associations would be disqualified. So also former players who run their own cricket academies.

3) The selectors to be appointed by the BCCI general body, on the basis of nominations from the associated state bodies. The various nominations will be scrutinised and shortlisted by the executive committee, before the full AGM makes the final pick.

4) The doing away of the 'honorary' status now enjoyed by selectors, making them full fledged, salaried employees of the board. The paying of a regular salary, the rules committee reasoned, would be an important first step towards making them accountable for results.

5) The selection committee to be supplemented by a five-member team of talent spotters, one for each zone, whose brief will be to watch first class games in that particular zone, and send periodic updates about the form and calibre of various players to the national committee for evaluation.

It's an ambitious -- and laudable -- programme. But Dungarpur, Lele and company will first have to hardsell it to the various member associations, and gain the required two-thirds majority needed to push through the amendment in the BCCI constitution that will make it all possible.

And they have to accomplish the task before mid-September...

Mail Prem Panicker