As a cricket fan in India, every year, certain episodes repeat itself. So much so that it becomes an annual ritual of sorts. You have players from the class of ‘11 dissing Dhoni for absolutely no reason and then you have the likes of Manoj Tiwary getting agitated over going unsold in IPL auction.
But nothing quite repeats itself like a certain set of domestic players posting one cryptic tweet after another, crying foul, after being overlooked for the India A setup. And unlike officials who choose not to disclose their identity, these players voice their opinion publicly, often launching a no-holds-barred assault on everyone involved. The norm is that these ‘tweets’ or ‘shoot interviews’ get a lot of traction and, along with it, plenty of support from fans and players, who sympathize with them for the 'injustice' that was served. And as is the case in almost everything in life, the mob are quick to stick the villain tag on the people in power, which in this case are the selectors. But what if the people in charge are justified in taking those controversial decisions? The other side of the coin is often left unexplored.
Much in accordance with the Under-19 system, the sole purpose of the domestic circuit, at the end of the day, is to act as a feeder system to the national team. Having strong, competitive state-sides are no doubt healthy to the domestic competitions and help in raising the standards and creating a culture, but eventually, everything boils down to the quality of the individuals that the teams produce. For all we know, there can be 18 equally matched, strong domestic sides competing with each other, but they all will be of little use to the national side if there are no standout individuals in each of those teams.
Therein lies the job of the selector - to identify and separate the best from the rest, groom them and catapult them into the national side. And in this process, little should the overall performance of the individuals’ teams matter. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the team’s results and performances must be neglected; however, a team’s success should never serve as the criteria to judge an individual, nor should it give them the bragging rights over several other players who did not quite taste the same success.
And this is one of the reasons why the common argument - that of certain players getting overlooked despite their side tasting success - can be questioned. As an individual, your team tasting success shouldn’t warrant you a pass into the national side or even the India A set-up for that matter. Until and unless you, as a player, match the proficiency of the best individuals of the competition, the selectors have every right to overlook you.
Let’s take the running example of both Vidarbha and Saurashtra - two modern-day giants on the Ranji circuit who have been extremely consistent and successful, but have not had the luck with their players making it to the national setup. No doubt, they are both two top-quality sides that have been built to succeed, but how many standout individuals do they really boast? The Saurashtra team that won the Ranji Trophy this season, comprising Harvik Desai, Avi Barot, Vishvaraj Jadeja, Arpit Vasavada, Chirag Jani, Sheldon Jackson, DA Jadeja etc are an extremely well-knit unit who exactly know what to do to ensure that they register a W next to the team’s name, but how many of them actually made the selectors take note with their performances?
This season, only one Saurashtra batsman breached the 800-run mark barrier; there were eight other batsmen who managed to achieve the same in the competition. If and when the India A squads are announced, a lot of the aforementioned players will be aggrieved knowing they were left out despite helping their side clinch the title, but a selector has every reason to opt for someone like a Sarfaraz Khan or Harshal Patel over all of these players, for they did end up having more concrete individual seasons. Something for the teams to introspect is if their system - which is extremely well-organized and designed to beat teams - is proving to be detrimental to their own players, curtailing them from expressing themselves and propelling them into the next level.
Gone are the days in Indian cricket when the feeders came from a specific number of states - be it Mumbai or Karnataka or Tamil Nadu or Delhi - who incidentally happened to be powerhouses in domestic cricket. The system is bigger and stronger than ever and thus there is an incessant need for individuals to break the door down to get into the national setup. Knocking isn’t good enough anymore, nor is just being a part of winning teams.
Of course, there will always be individuals who are unjustly omitted and those players have every right to be aggrieved - A Fazal from 2017, for instance, has every right to express his disappointment. However, that cannot be an excuse for other individuals to latch on to, for being a great ‘team-player’ just doesn't cut it anymore. Not in India, at least.