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July 10, 2000
Hats off to Hanumant!Harsha Bhogle
Something excellent happened to Indian cricket recently.
You wouldn’t normally associate a setback to a promising career as a good sign but in the expulsion from the national academy of three of India’s best young cricketers lies a very encouraging sign. Normally, I would have hesitated to comment on the sending-off of Nikhil Haldipur, Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik but the man who wrote the orders is a man who commands wide respect and I know enough of him to take him at his word.
Hanumant Singh is not just a lover of Indian cricket, he has a very soft corner towards young cricketers. He would have debated long within himself before taking a decision like this and I am willing to accept that the conditions would have demanded nothing less. In doing so, however, he has also told everyone connected with Indian cricket that the academy means business and that is the most positive thought I have come across for many many years.
The BCCI and Raj Singh in particular, have done well with their choice of people. Brijesh Patel has very quickly acquired the reputation of a good organiser and the academy would have the right facilities available to it with him in charge. And not one of the three people picked to mould our best young cricketers has had a bad word said about him. In an atmosphere where a star was till recently believed to be the custodian of all virtues, it is nice to see good honest people in charge.
The only criticism I have ever heard levelled against Hanumant Singh is that he is too much of a theroretician. I am not sure I am competent enough to comment on that but I do not see that being a disqualification in this job. And with Vasu Paranjape around, and you will have to go far to meet a man who loves his cricket more, you are never far from a smile. His passion in life is to teach young men to play cricket and indeed if passion were a crime, he would be hung by now.
Both Hanumant Singh and Vasu Paranjape come from a generation that laid a different store by values. They are strong people, strong enough to resist a challenge to what is right, and I suspect (indeed I hope) that apart from correcting the defence of young batsmen, they will also mould them in the right attitude to life. The third part of this triangle that holds out so much hope for us is Roger Binny; a wonderful, soft spoken man with no malice.
You can be sure of one thing now. The rest of the boys at the academy will stay in line and if there was anything India’s cricket culture desperately needed it was this infusion of discipline. It was necessary to counter the air of arrogance sweeping our cricket, not just among administrators but among cricketers who very quickly assumed they were the chosen ones.
The signs that this arrogance was taking them nowhere were there to see. But they were blinded and did not see that jobs were becoming scarce, that permanent employment was giving way to playing contracts for example. Only the public sector was flying the flag in Delhi and in Mumbai, the culture of office cricket received a huge shock when Elf Lubricants sacked all their cricketers claiming they weren’t even turning up to receive their salaries.
The academy is a good starting point to advertise a fresh new air of discipline, if not for anything else for the fact that there are hardly any other people who think similarly in our cricket! But it must now guard, and guard zealously, against appeals from state associations to reinstate these cricketers. It is critical for without such powers, and such freedom, the academy will be reduced to another outlet for political favours.
I remember asking Rodney Marsh a year and a half ago about whether he ever had any pressure to admit a particular cricketer instead of another. “No” he said “because they would have known what my answer would have been.” Now, Hanumant Singh needs to have similar powers.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that keeping selection to the academy away from the various selection committees was a good idea. Our selection committees have too much interference, there is too little cricket discussed there sometimes, too often the objectives are pre-determined and players are picked to fill geographical or political slots. I only hope though, that this is not perceived to be a slight against them and that bright young cricketers discovered at the academy are not discriminated against because they weren’t picked by the selectors in the first place.
It would be interesting though to see how Haldipur, Kartik and Harbhajan react to this for it would offer pretty direct evidence of their attitude. They could of course, send letters of remorse and plead to be picked again. Or they could use this incident, in a curiously positive spirit of vengeance, to spur greater performance. Deep down, I would be delighted, and Indian cricket would benefit greatly, if they picked the second option.
Now then, how do we bring a similar air to the national team ? One way of course would be identify four no-nonsense and upright individuals, get three of them to be selectors and one of them to be coach. That way, the moment the coach identifies a trouble-maker, the selectors can drop him and unless something drastic like that happens, the message will not come home. And this is not a new message. Teams have done that before and benefited greatly from it. In fact the whole culture of discipline in Australian cricket came from a selection policy in the mid-eighties that placed attitude and commitment above everything else. If you were the kind who stirred up trouble, you had no chance of being picked and that turned out to be a fantastic deterrent.
At the root of it all though was the desire to generate the right attitude. Indian cricket doesn’t have it because it doesn’t want to have it. State associations, for example, routinely pick over-age cricketers at under 19 tournaments. Everybody knows it and so either through participation, or through silence, they are party to it. But because the ends are political, rather than cricketing, it is allowed to go on. Now, in such an atmosphere, can we expect an air of discipline and commitment to flow?
That is why Hanumant Singh has struck a great blow in favour of forward looking cricket lovers in India. And that is why it is imperative that he receive as much support as possible for his action. This has to be the first of many more steps.
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