Selectors never win - only this time they were not forgotten

June 29th, 2008 - 11:24 am ICT by IANS  

By K. Datta
It was time to celebrate. At least for one evening at New Delhi’s Taj Palace Hotel where the Board of Control for Cricket in India was felicitating Kapil Dev’s team for winning the World Cup 25 years ago it was improper to talk of anything else. The board had opened its heart in honour of Kapil’s champion cricketers. And, in rewarding each one of them Rs. 25 lakhs, also its now swollen coffers. The felicitation, before the actual reunion took place in the Long Room at Lord’s in London, was for domestic consumption. The actual reunion was as impressive at Lord’s ground in London.

As Kapil’s now middle-aged cricketers stood on the stage, all bad feelings resulting from the formation of the “rebel” Indian Cricket League, were forgotten. There were no pariahs any longer, at least for now. There were no sulking faces. There were smiles and bonhomie all over the place as everyone looked everyone else in the eye. There was time only for goodwill.

To be a successful speaker at cricket parties you don’t have to get your grammar or syntax right, however proper an attribute that may be. Humour, knowledge of the game and, above all, a straight-from-the-heart delivery are more important. That is what marked Kapil Dev’s speech as he guilelessly recalled the triumphant afternoon at London’s cricket ground.

But who would have thought that would start the evening by thoughtfully singling out the then selectors for special mention. Selectors never win. Selectors, as we all know, are remembered only when things go wrong. Of the six wise men of the then selection committee, headed by Ghulam Ahmed, only two are alive — Chandu Borde and Bishan Singh Bedi.

Bedi was in Amritsar when told of Kapil’s public gesture the morning after. “How very nice of Kapil to have done that!” said Bedi. “It was a great experience to have been part of that committee,” he acknowledged. To have been remembered for his role as a selector 25 years later gave him a special thrill. Borde Sahib, as he was respectfully addressed by Kapil Dev at the Delhi felicitation, must also have felt the same way.

So what was it like at the selection debates those days? The diminutive Hanumant Singh was a selector with special insights and a deep knowledge of the game, and another good student of the game was A.G.Kripal Singh. Bedi couldn’t conceal his admiration for the two cricketers. As for the tall and stately Ghulam Ahmed, who chaired the discussions, “Well, Ghulam Sahib was our senior who commanded great respect,” Bedi recalls with due reverence.

Now well into his seventies, Borde revealed on the tour of England by Rahul Dravid’s team that the cricket brain in his old head had lost little of the sharpness it was known for. It was a difficult time for Indian cricket, still recovering from the shock defeats in the World Cup in the Caribbean. Detractors made fun of his failing memory for names. But, as it turned out, he justified the trust reposed in him by cricket board president Sharad Pawar. The turn-around in England was not a little due to the shrewd guidance of Borde Sir.

Dilip Vengsarkar, who now wears the uneasy crown of chairman of selectors, was also one of Kapil’s “Devils”, as they came to be called, that memorable June afternoon at Lord’s 25 years ago. The “Colonel”, as Kapil called him, standing ramrod straight, must have secretly desired that he also would some day in the future be remembered the way Kapil remembered selectors of his time.

Vengsarkar and his colleagues have indeed done their job well enough behind closed doors before pulling the lists of players out of the hat. Ask Dhoni and some other young Indian cricketers, as also some older ones.

Ours is a nation starved of such sporting distinctions carrying the “world” tag. The only other world cup won in a team sport before Kapil’s team lifted the Prudential Cup was the hockey world cup won by Ajitpal Singh’s team at Kuala Lumpur in 1975, though individual world titles have been picked up by men like Wilson Jones, Michael Ferreira and Geet Sethi in billiards and snooker and Viswanathan Anand in chess. No one thought of holding a felicitation to mark the silver jubilee of, say, the hockey World Cup victory. But then cricket is different.

(K.Datta is a veteran journalist. He can be reached at

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