Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Process of Selection in Cricket

The Selection Process in cricket is one where no two minds rarely meet. Everyone has an opinion, more so those outside the selection committee. Most people think about the selection process as one where they  feel that talent must be hunted down and brought out of nowhere, from the streets, roads, hills and rivers if possible. 'Otherwise what is the big deal? Anyone can sit here and pick players  on current form. Talent should be unearthed. New talent,' they advise. The overall consensus is that selection processes are biased, unfair, corrupt and do not give the right talent the break because of political or other compulsions.

But let me not talk about the drama behind selections which I shall address at a later stage. I'd like this article to be of some help to players or candidates who are looking to get selected. Let them understand what the selector looks for and accordingly prepare for selection.

The average player or candidate who is up for selection is typically clueless about what is happening on the other side. He or she is busy performing and hoping that someone might have seen or observed their performances. For them getting selected is  a huge miracle and all hopes hang in there. But it will help to see how a typical selector looks at things and how these issues can be addressed.

The best combination to win
First selectors have a broad strategy in place. It could be to win, to hold, to secure, to stop further losses. From this standpoint they select players or candidates who best suit their purpose. Typically in games and sports, and certainly in cricket, selectors look to win games mostly. This is one objective that throws out any element of compromise in team combination out of the window. Simply put, you need the best team to win, the best combination, the strongest bench, and that is pretty much the entire job of the selectors. If the purpose is not stated clearly, all sorts of experiments start happening which could compromise the team and the player futures.

Player progression and readiness
The players are looked at from the standpoint of their career progression, current form and certainly their core strengths in terms of match winning or match saving performances. Rarely are players drafted into senior teams without having served at junior levels or having come through the ranks unless the talent shines through, for the simple reason that they are not often prepared, mentally, for the higher level of the game. By coming through the ranks and performing at various levels they show their capacity to adjust or not adjust. So it is best that one looks for players within that age group and if there is any exceptional performer, we test the candidate in a couple of games to see how he or she fares. If the candidate is showing great assurance or thumps the opposition, he or she is ready for the next level. But if she is not ready and is under pressure, it is best not to dent the confidence by exposing them too early.

Match winners are preferred
One certainly looks at current form. But here one is more keen to see how the candidate has fared in match winning circumstances. Is the person good under pressure or  is he or she scoring only when it does not matter really. A hard fought 50 in tough circumstances is better than a 100 in a game that has no pressure. So match winning contributions, signs of character, resilience and rising to the situation, are taken into account while picking players. So one may have situations where players who may have scored tons of runs against weak oppositions are dropped in favor of those who have shown proof of grit and character while compiling far lesser runs. The capacity to be a match winner is certainly a requirement.

Good attitude, team men
Having said that one must also be a team man. A great talent and match winning talent cannot be encouraged if the player is spoiling the dressing room atmosphere. There are all sorts of players and we need players who will give their best for the team's cause. This would mean putting their egos aside, helping others, motivating others, putting the team ahead of themselves, going the extra mile for the team. Though great players also come with some baggage at times, selectors do look for the fine line when the player's presence is detrimental to the team atmosphere and stunts the growth of the majority. In such circumstances it is better that the team is without such influences. Cricket is a team game and maximum importance is given to the team. No individual can be given greater treatment or lesser treatment.

Players must look to grow, not hang in there
Another subtle aspect is that of players who just do enough to hang in there. Selectors are keen, on most occasions, to have players who are willing to grow and go to the next level. That is the entire purpose of the team and all effort must be made by the players to improve and push the team to the next level. But in many cases you have players who are above average in talent but who are keeping the team stuck. The team stagnates because these players have no interest or belief in pushing to the next level. They will do enough to consolidate their position, and some players actually try to stop other younger players from growing by actively messing with their minds. Quite clearly these players have to go as these are rotten apples who can infect the good ones. Unless and until they show signs of increasing momentum and going to next level, it is better to shed baggage and build afresh.

Selectors look for growth oriented and hard working players who bring the right attitude to the team. Players who believe in their abilities, who are willing to work and perform at every level, who are prepared for the next level, who seek to be in a match winning team, who help others and keep the team spirit up are always the types who will be persisted with even in periods of bad form. Form is temporary. Attitude is not.

Prepare for next level
Players must then prepare fully on all three levels - skill, physical and mental. Skill reflects in performance confidence, physical training in stamina, strength, flexibility and endurance and the mental aspect allows the player to rise above in tough times and make the difference. All three reflect on player performances clearly. The match winners stand out and shine. In fact there is a principle on which selectors work - it is that even if some fine talent gets left out once - if the person is fully prepared on all three levels, no one can keep him or her out. The skill will help score runs, physical training will take greater loads and mental resilience will say only one thing - let me perform until they pick me. When players are fully prepared they do not quit which is a sign of brittleness. They fight it out until they cannot be ignored.

Be the undroppable
While picking teams, there is one list of people whose names do not feature in any discussions. They are automatic choices, the undroppables, because of their performances and their value to the team. Players must aim to be in that list of 6 or 7 undroppables by putting up performances that cannot be ignored - at every stage. Check out the scores of last year and see who scored what in your levels and try to measure up and set the bar. Most players seem content to merely make it to the squad and I have heard players crib on how they scored almost the same runs as the 14th player or got the same number of wickets. For such players there is no sympathy. Walk in on merit. No one can question that.

Over-enthusiastic parents and coaches can harm irrevocably
For parents and guardians who keep fighting for their wards or try to cultivate selectors one can only say one thing. By pushing a youngster ahead of his or her time you are doing a great injustice to that person. The game is graded so one learns at each level. Respect that. You cannot bat or bowl for your ward out there. He or she has to do it entirely on their own and against tough oppositions. Would you like your ward to go in unprepared to battle? Why don't you let them prepare better and then send them to battle? By merely pushing them into the deep water without teaching them how to swim, you are only aiding in drowning them. If you have to invest, do it in the right practices, the right preparation which will hold the young cricketer in
good stead.

That then is the story in a nutshell. As a player, be fully prepared for one level higher than yours. It requires purposeful work, growth orientation and good coaches or advise. Keep learning, performing and no one can keep you out. Believe in yourself and your ability. The great thing about the game is that even if you do not get selected, the right processes and attitudes can help you immensely in all that you choose to do. You can never lose with that attitude.

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