Cricket: Of team talks, threats and tweets

The last week has been a dramatic one in Indian cricket with Saha's revelations and all of it was good
Last Updated 26 February 2022, 18:57 IST

In a moment of emotional upheaval or anger or genuine hurt following his exclusion from the Indian Test squad, Wriddhiman Saha made public his conversations with head coach Rahul Dravid and chief selector Chetan Sharma, both of whom made it unequivocally clear to the veteran wicketkeeper that the team was looking beyond him for the India job. This wasn't the only reason Saha was upset; he also felt let down by BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, who had apparently promised the 37-year-old through a text message that as long as he (Ganguly) was at the helm of the Board's affairs, Saha’s spot in the Test squad was secured.

Simultaneously, Saha also tweeted a few WhatsApp messages, purportedly from a senior journalist, that threatened the cricketer of consequences for refusing an interview with the unnamed scribe.

All these actions, performed unwittingly or otherwise, have come back to haunt Saha, with the BCCI deciding to get to the bottom of the issues. When the Board contemplated probing the threat from the journalist, Saha tweeted that he was not going to disclose his/her name. However, once BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal claimed that Saha was in breach of contract for divulging the "confidential" talks with Dravid and Sharma and that he would be answerable for the same, the Bengal player has reportedly agreed to reveal the name of the journalist since. The formation of a three-member panel on Friday - comprising Dhumal, vice-president Rajiv Shukla and Apex Council Member Prabhtej Singh Bhatia - to investigate the matter is no mere coincidence.

While it remains to be seen what this probe eventually unveils, Saha's revelations have thrown open three distinct matters of different merit.

Let's first look at Dravid and the chief selector's decision to address the player directly on his future. Not just Saha but veteran pacer Ishant Sharma was also sounded out; the latter didn't make a song and dance of his dialogues with the two. There have been coaches in the past who kept communication lines between themselves and players open. Any player at any level of the game would vouch for the fact that there's nothing more frustrating than not knowing the reason for the sustained omission. Ask Karun Nair, who was left high and dry when injury-replacement Hanuma Vihari made his Test debut in England in 2018 despite the Karnataka player being in the original squad.

Athletes put everything on the line to make a career in their chosen sport. It includes years of toil and their parents' sacrifices, and the least they deserve is being told why they aren’t being considered for action. Team selections in a country of over a billion people are never going to be easy. Only 18-20 (from the earlier 15-16, thanks to the pandemic) get picked in a squad and 11 get to play on any given day. There are bound to be heartburns and misgivings about selections or non-selection and being open about these decisions helps assuage players’ concerns or at least gives them the closure of sorts.

Towards that end, one must appreciate Dravid's proactive approach indirectly communicating to the player concerned with the team's future plans and whether one fits into the scheme of things or not. As the former India captain said, not having these kinds of conversations would have been the safest way out for him.

"The easiest thing for me is to not have these conversations and not speak to players about it," said Dravid when asked about Saha's disclosure. "That's not what I am going to do. But at some stage, I hope they respect the fact that I was able to front up and have those conversations."

Saha may still be the best wicketkeeper in the country, but he clearly can't be the first choice when you have a much superior batting option in the vastly improved Rishabh Pant. Also, with Saha pushing 38, the team management can't not be looking at grooming a younger player. A veteran of 40 Tests deserved clarity and has been granted one. If that’s hurt him, too bad then.

Talking of clarity, Saha is now being pushed to clear the air on the threats from the journalist who felt so insulted at not getting an interview that he went to the extent of bullying the cricketer. Journalists have as much right to seek interviews as players have the right to agree or refuse. While the actions of the as yet unidentified journalist have received widespread condemnation from former players, some of them would do well to realise that the journalist is the Frankenstein they themselves helped create. Players or administrators should also know that if they use journalists to plant stories or carry out their agenda, it will one day come back to bite them. It's as much the responsibility of journalists as it is of players and administrators to avoid such unholy alliances.

That brings us to the third issue, which has been a sort of elephant in the room that not many want to address. There have been unsubstantiated reports about Ganguly inviting himself to selection meetings, though convention allows only for the secretary to attend in his capacity as the convener of the meeting.

While Ganguly has denied these allegations even while maintaining that there was no harm in him attending meetings given his vast experience as player-captain, his message to Saha does send out a signal that he was at least willing to influence selectors from the outside. While Saha's exclusion shows that Ganguly hasn't exercised his not inconsiderable clout to sway the selectors, the perception created by his conduct doesn't do any good to either his or the BCCI's image.

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(Published 26 February 2022, 17:25 IST)

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