Selecting Kohli in 2008 cost me my job – Vengsarkar

India


Dilip Vengsarkar believes he paid a hefty price – his job as chairman of selectors – for selecting a young Virat Kohli, Under-19 World Cup winner, ahead of S Badrinath, domestic stalwart, back in 2008. At an event to felicitate sports journalists, Vengsarkar accused N Srinivasan, the then BCCI treasurer, and then captain MS Dhoni of favouring the Chennai Super Kings and Tamil Nadu player Badrinath.

Vengsarkar went on to accuse Srinivasan of costing him his job as the chairman of the selection committee and replacing him with former India and Tamil Nadu player Kris Srikkanth. However, at the time, Vengsarkar could have qualified for an extension of his term if he had given up a conflict of interest that arose from his being vice-president of the Mumbai Cricket Association.

In the same BCCI AGM where Srikkanth was appointed chairman of selectors, Srinivasan became the board’s secretary and Shashank Manohar the president. The panel chaired by Srikkanth was the first to serve as paid selectors.

The selection that Vengsarkar spoke of was for the limited-overs leg of the 2008 tour of Sri Lanka, incidentally the first year of the IPL. Super Kings captain Dhoni had been the limited-overs captain for a year. Asked which of his roles – player, captain, chairman of selection committee – was the toughest, Vengsarkar picked selector and went on to explain.

“There was an Emerging Players tournament between Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and India in 2008,” Vengsarkar said. “We decided to send only Under-23 players for this tour. That year, we had won the U-19 World Cup as well, and Virat Kohli was the captain of that team. We included him in that team.

“I went to Brisbane to watch those matches. This match was against New Zealand, and they had a stronger side than us. They had a few Test players too. In that match he scored 123 not out, and I knew we needed to play him in the Indian team. I felt he was mature as a batsman.”

Kohli did score an unbeaten 120 as an opener in the match Vengsarkar spoke of, helping India chase down a target of 249 set by a New Zealand side that included Jesse Ryder, Martin Guptill, BJ Watling, Corey Anderson and Hamish Bennett.

“I felt the ODI leg of the Sri Lanka tour was an ideal situation to include him in the squad,” Vengsarkar said. “The other four selectors told me, ‘Dilip bhai we will do whatever you say. There is no problem at all.’ But Gary Kirsten and Dhoni were reluctant because they said they hadn’t seen Kohli before. I told them, ‘You haven’t seen him but I have. This boy needs to play.’

“I knew that Badrinath was from the south and he was from Chennai Super Kings. From N Srinivasan’s team. He would have to miss out if Kohli had to be picked. And that happened. I picked Virat Kohli, and Badrinath went out.”

As it turned out, Sachin Tendulkar missed the ODIs with injury, which gave Badrinath an opportunity to play. Kohli played all five matches, Badrinath three. Kohli averaged 31.50, scoring a half-century too. Badrinath averaged 19.5 in the three innings he got. India won that series, their first bilateral success in Sri Lanka.

However, Vengsarkar said the selection committee meeting was not the last of the resistance he had to face. “Next day Srinivasan asked me, ‘How could you leave Badrinath?'” Vengsarkar said. “I said I had seen the Emerging tour, and that Virat Kohli was an exceptional player. He said, ‘But Badrinath has scored 800 runs for Tamil Nadu.’ I said he will get his chance. Srinivasan said, ‘When will he get his chance? He is 29 [27, actually].’ I said he will get his chance when he gets it. I cannot make guarantees.

“The next day he took [Kris] Srikkanth to Sharad Pawar – the BCCI president – and sent me home. That was the end of my career as a selector.”

The decision to disqualify state officials from being national selectors was ratified at BCCI’s AGM in September 2008. The contentious selection was made in early August that year. Incidentally Badrinath had called the rejection a “crushing blow” that left him numb. “Forget Emerging Players Trophy, I have scored heavily during the A series against Australia and South Africa earlier and the only player to have done better than me in domestic competitions is Gautam Gambhir,” Badrinath told The Times of India then. “When Manoj Tiwary went for the tri-series in Australia earlier this year, I was intrigued. Still, I tried to keep my cool. Now it’s Virat Kohli. This is really going nowhere.”

Vengsarkar is not the only selector to have spoken of Srinivasan’s influence on selections. Mohinder Amarnath, the chairman of selectors in 2011-12, has in the past accused Srinivasan of blocking a move to remove Dhoni as the limited-overs captain after India had been whitewashed in successive Test series in England and Australia. However, Srinivasan was the president of the board then. The BCCI’s constitution said all captaincy changes had to be ratified by the board president. This one wasn’t, and Dhoni went on to captain India until after the 2015 World Cup.



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