Clayton Murzello: Passion must always stay in fashion

By  Clayton Murzello | Mumbai | Posted  08-Jun-2017

Mumbai's selection committee will do well to emulate the likes of Dilip Sardesai and Naren Tamhane, fine selectors and super mentors

Then Mumbai selector Dilip Sardesai with batsman Amit Pagnis in 2000
Then Mumbai selector Dilip Sardesai with batsman Amit Pagnis in 2000

The winds of change have blown across Mumbai cricket, over the maidans and gymkhanas and into the very hearts of city cricket enthusiasts.

Chief selector Milind Rege gets replaced by Ajit Agarkar, while Sameer Dighe takes Chandrakant Pandit's place as team coach. Out go Ravi Thakkar and Nishit Shetty and in come Nilesh Kulkarni and Sunil More in the senior selection panel. Jatin Paranjape is retained.

Rege and Pandit have their sympathisers. Their performance as chief selector and coach respectively was nowhere near the realms of disastrous. It shouldn't be forgotten that Pandit pulled Mumbai out of a hole in 2002-03 and was ensuring that the ship moved on steadily. Rege has been serving as senior selector even before Sachin Tendulkar made his first-class appearance in 1988; a true indicator of his selectorial longevity. Indeed, the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) could have displayed some level of appreciation for his work.

That his sacking came close on the heels of a letter he wrote to the MCA president Ashish Shelar, in which he pointed to interference by the office bearers, appears more than a coincidence. Some will argue that new faces were needed in Mumbai cricket and while one can buy that, it is also hoped that the new personnel leave no stone unturned to take Mumbai cricket to a new level. Make no mistake, game in the city is begging for a fillip.

Before I am accused of ignoring the 41 Ranji Trophy titles, let me stress that the number of Ranji victories should only point to Mumbai's superiority on an all-India scale. It does not mean that city cricket is at its best.

In his recent column in which he slammed the move to replace Rege as chief selector, Sunil Gavaskar wrote: "All the fine work and hours that he (Rege) had spent travelling the dusty maidans of Mumbai in hot and sometimes rainy weather was forgotten after that one letter and he was replaced. What is galling is that it was the Cricket Improvement Committee, which usually comprises former cricketers, who took the call. Let me clear here that Milind and I have grown up together and I know him better than most and so I accept that I could be biased. However, apart from the late Dilip Sardesai, I have not known any Mumbai selector to watch the number of matches in Mumbai as much as Rege does."

Sadly, both the gentlemen Gavaskar mentioned were never made national selectors. I'm not sure whether Sardesai was recommended by the MCA to be one or whether he had the time and inclination, but the closest Rege came to being part of a national committee was when he thought of applying to the BCCI last year for a spot on the junior panel. That was before the Board came up with the below-60 age criteria.

Both Rege and Sardesai never fell short of passion. Shishir Hattangadi, the former Mumbai captain, was named skipper of the Mumbai under-22 team in 1981-82. Before his team left for their first game, Sardesai, then a senior selector, insisted that Sanjay Manjrekar, still an under-19 cricketer then, be played in all games and should bat at No. 6. Hattangadi's side was packed with some fine young batsmen, but had to be played. Not because he was Vijay Manjrekar's son, but because, according to Sardesai, he was a future Mumbai and India batsman.

Naren Tamhane was another fine selector. Austin Coutinho, the noted cartoonist, also excelled in pace bowling on the Mumbai club circuit in the late 1970s and 1980s. He played for Somaiya College, who were then coached by Naren Tamhane. Coutinho, at one stage, felt he'd had enough of cricket and decided to hang up his boots to pursue a Masters degree in econometrics and then law. When he told Tamhane about his decision, the former Mumbai and India stumper, then a Mumbai selector, tried his best to convince him that he had a bright cricketing future. Three months later, Coutinho got wickets for his club Young Maharashtra against eventual Kanga League 'A' division champions, Rajasthan SC, and Tamhane was watching him from one end of Shivaji Park. Soon, Coutinho was included in the Mumbai Ranji Trophy probables.

Kiran Mokashi, the former Mumbai off-spinner, also hailed Tamhane's passion as a selector. "While Sardesai was always around at games in South Mumbai, Tamhane was always at Shivaji Park and Matunga, watching games. Both were very encouraging to young players and their interest in you gave you a high," said Mokashi.

The current Mumbai selectors (Agarkar, Paranjape, Kulkarni and More) have something to emulate. They played in the same era and there's no reason why they cannot sing in one voice. They'd also do well to remember that while they have to enrich the Mumbai team with players of skill and temperament, they must also nurture players who could go on to play for India.

The new selection panel, along with the coach, will be monitored more closely than their predecessors. They can't please everyone, but they can come out of every selection meeting with the belief that they have been fair.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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