In the recently-held JP Atrey cricket tournament in Chandigarh, which serves as a warm-up for various state associations ahead of a hectic domestic cricket season, there were as many as three teams from Delhi but none from the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), the official governing body of cricket in Delhi.
While official teams from the state associations of Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab (both senior and junior teams) as well as from Baroda, Goa and Madhya Pradesh participated to warm up for the season, the Delhi body didn’t send any.
Instead, all three Delhi teams were from private academies, including one from Indian Premier League franchise Delhi Capitals.
A major reason for lack of representation in the warm-up tournament, which was held between 22 September and 3 October, was that there were no selectors to pick the squad and no coach was appointed to supervise it.
The junior and senior selection committees as well as coaching staff were appointed only on 30 September, a week after the JP Atrey tournament began and only a week before the teams were to depart for the first BCCI tournament of the season, giving them little time to warm up and compete.
But this isn’t unusual. This has been happening for the past few years – the late appointment of selection panels — amid controversy — and the poor performance of the team.
After the high of 2017-18, when Delhi played the Ranji Trophy final (and won the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s) under a High Court-appointed administrator, the team has regularly failed to make the knockouts of the multi-day tournament giving vent to criticism of selection – with allegations of nepotism — and lack of team camaraderie.
The inability of Delhi-specific selectors and coaching staff to whip up a champion team has forced the DDCA to bring in outsiders to pick and coach the team.
“We decided to involve outsiders in the top positions of the panels because what happens is that often coaches and selectors invite players from the academies to which they are connected, and pick them. We wanted some sort of transparency and wanted to avoid partisanship,” says Rajan Manchanda, the joint secretary of the DDCA.
DDCA president Rohan Jaitley, whose father Arun Jaitley too served as the president during a period when allegations of nepotism were rife, says that they wanted to open it for all to have more options among selectors and coaches.
“We have attempted to open it for all from India and get various options. The people selected in the coaches and selectors’ position are basically those that were recommended by the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC),” says Jaitley.
The DDCA CAC comprises three members who have played for India and is headed by Nikhil Chopra, the former India off-spinner. Ex-Test cricketer Gursharan Singh and India woman cricketer Reema Malhotra are the other two members.
The bulk of selectors and coaches are Delhi-ites but those heading the committees are largely from outside.
The senior men’s selection committee is headed by Gagan Khoda, a former India international batsman who represented Rajasthan in domestic cricket. The senior committee handles the selection of Delhi senior and U-25 teams.
The coach of the senior Delhi team is Abhay Sharma, a former Railways player who has coached the Railways team as well as the India’s junior teams as deputy to Rahul Dravid.
The chief coach of the Delhi U-25 team is former India pacer Pankaj Singh, who is also a former Rajasthan player and is from Uttar Pradesh.
The under-19 (men’s) team coach this season is Jaswant Rai, who is new India pacer Arshdeep Singh’s coach and has played cricket for Himachal Pradesh and lives in Chandigarh.
Even the women’s team head coach is Dishant Yagnik, a former Rajasthan first-class cricketer.
Conflict of interest?
Barring the junior men’s selection committee (for U-19, U-16 and U-14) chairman Aakash Malhotra, who represented Delhi at first-class level but who also faced a conflict of interest complaint this season as his son plays for Delhi U-25, and women’s selection panel head Amita Sharma, all the selection panels and coaching set-ups are headed by those who haven’t played for Delhi or know little of Delhi.
The CAC chief and former India spinner Chopra says that they needed fresh faces.
“What was happening was that the same faces were getting repeated in the committees. There can only be a limited number of people in a state. So we decided to open it and get some fresh faces,” says Chopra.
The 48-year-old, who played one Test and 39 ODIs, says that they wanted people who could devote full-time.
“We thought let us get some people with some experience. Unfortunately, everybody of stature in Delhi was busy doing something or the other and could not devote full time to the task. Somebody was involved in business, someone was running his own academy. We wanted people who could devote their full time to the Delhi team. It is a big responsibility,” he adds.
“Every state goes through transformation. We thought we will get people with fresher ideas.”
While Chopra’s concerns are valid as outsiders can bring fresher ideas, especially those with experience at the top level like Abhay Sharma.
After coaching the Railways team, Sharma had served as assistant to Dravid at the India U-19 and India A levels. Those teams did well too.
However, there are other names that have been questioned.
A former member of the selection committee, who does not want to be named says, “If it is only about reducing nepotism and bringing fresher ideas, then what explains bringing in Pankaj Singh. Pankaj runs an academy, the PS Cricket Academy which has a branch in Delhi’s Yamuna Sports Complex.”
Pankaj’s promixity to former India captain and current BJP MP from East Delhi Gautam Gambhir is believed to have played a role in him getting the Delhi job. Gambhir had in fact gone to Jaipur to inaugurate his academy, back in 2018.
Jaswant too isn’t said to be that well-versed with cricket in Delhi.
While there is very little chance of nepotism in the senior Ranji Trophy teams since the names are well-known and good players can easily be sifted from the bad ones, the problem lies in junior cricket where the talent isn’t that well known and personal preferences can be made.
The under-19 team hasn’t started well in its campaign in the one-day tournament for the Vinoo Mankad Trophy this season. They were thrashed by Haryana in the first game last week while the second was washed out.
It is quite clear that the coach didn’t get much time with the kids, something that is needed at the junior level.
“Yes, the coaching staff was appointed late and didn’t get time but the kids were practicing under the supervision of CAC,” reasons Manchanda.
Quite inexplicably, the recommendations from the CAC for the appointment of coaches and selection committee came only on the 25th September, when the domestic season was just a few days away and there was no chance of organising the camp. Post that, it took five days to announce it officially when the season was already upon them.
Even in the case of the junior women’s team, the committee was hastily announced only on September 27 just a day before the team was to leave.
Almost all top cricket associations announce the coach and selection panel well in advance and there is generally a preparatory camp and often a tournament where they participate.
The Delhi senior team, however, has been lucky this time as it has been bolstered by the presence of India pacers Ishant Sharma and Navdeep Saini, who have made themselves available for the season-opening Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 which started on 11 October. Being India rejects now has allowed them to feature for Delhi which will play its Group B matches in Jaipur.
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