When batting legend Sunil Gavaskar said MSK Prasad’s selection committee was being ‘bullied’ because of its inexperience he inadvertently put his finger on a very raw nerve. Indian cricket operates on a system where status is linked to number of matches played. The ideology behind this stat-based informal caste system is captured by the question: kitna khela hai?
There is a belief that only those who played know cricket, and ones who played more know more. Many support this view, arguing that war is understood only by soldiers who saw actual action, not by armchair strategists. Genuine experience and distilled wisdom has to be earned— it can’t be ordered online and home delivered.
This strand runs through our DNA. Indian cricket grants merit and ability to those with stat-heavy cricket CVs. All key cricket appointments (India coach, membership of CAC/IPL Governing Council/NCA) are ‘reserved’ for legends. Others, sort of technically ineligible, need not apply.
Selection committee appointments are exempt from this unwritten rule, for a valid reason. The selection of selectors is part of BCCI’s election dynamics where competence is not always the key consideration, the system tilts towards those capable of swinging votes in some way.
Everywhere else, kitna khela hai resonates in Indian cricket; it is legal currency that is accepted across playing fields and dressing rooms. Number of matches played determines the player’s value, stature and respect. Cricketers swear by a pecking order that seats international stars on the high table and finds place for first-class players in some corner.
This warrant of precedence can be a weapon to attack or used as a dismissive remark to show someone his station in life.
A reminder of how this plays out came recently when Sanjay Manjrekar’s comment about Jadeja’s ‘bits and pieces’ jibe received a strong response. Jadeja tore into him, putting Manjrekar to the sword by pointing out he has played far more cricket than him.
When a player can battle another player publicly it’s no surprise that cricket media receives far more brutal treatment. Players think journalists are ill-informed and ignorant, largely unblemished by knowledge, and treat them with disrespect. For them, far from being a stakeholder and an ally, the media is an unwanted nuisance, an irritant to be tolerated.
Looked at dispassionately, numbers do matter because, generally, players have to be special to reach where they reach. They are expected to have domain knowledge and be clued in every way. But this doesn’t always work automatically; playing more games is an advantage but not a permanent lifelong perk.
A contrary view says numbers lie, or at least conceal the full truth. There is nothing to suggest only those who played more cricket better understand its nuances. And about people who didn’t play serious cricket commenting on the game, there is this classic comment: you don’t have to lay an egg to criticise an omelette.
There are many examples in India and elsewhere of top cricketers failing spectacularly when assigned cricket responsibilities. These instinctive geniuses, blessed with extraordinary god- given talent, performed superbly on the field but found coping with administrative/ coaching roles an altogether different ball game.
Raj Singh Dungarpur and Sanjay Jagdale (both without Test experience) were respected selectors. More recently, Saba Karim and Vikram Rathour (both serious students of cricket) were outstanding, more competent than players who played much more than them.
India’s obsession with superstars will never allow a situation where Paul Collingwood (ex-England captain) works under head coach Trevor Bayliss who hasn’t played international cricket. New Zealand was coached by 38-year-old Mike Hesson for six years and South Africa is sending 36-year-old Enoch Nkwe as head coach to India. Both without Test experience. Russell Domingo, the new Bangladesh coach, hasn’t played any first-class cricket.
Such appointments are unthinkable in India. Chandu Pandit, Amol Majumdar, Sujith Somasundar, Bhaskar Pillai, Vijay Dahiya, Hrishikesh Kanitkar are excellent pros on the domestic circuit but unlikely to land national coaching jobs or leadership roles in cricket administration. There is little likelihood of someone senior (like Ravi Shastri) playing second fiddle to someone junior (like Sanjay Bangar).The kitna khela hai culture won’t allow that.
Still, when Gavaskar spoke about selectors lacking authority he was partly right. Obviously, a five-member committee with a collective experience of 13 Tests faces a formidable challenge when pitted against Virat Kohli/Ravi Shastri who have logged 157 Tests. But, equally obviously, it’s not always game, set and match against the selectors. MSK took this blow on the chin and defended himself with a straight bat!