The stars in perspective
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In this age of anxiety, selectors alone cannot manage talent. Coaches and captains have a larger responsibility
When Ian Chappell greeted India's under-19 World Cup victory by questioning whether its best bowler and batsman should be there in the first place, he may have set off a debate about more than the immediate future of young Harmeet Singh and Unmukt Chand. Is the U-19 team the "right career path" for a talent like Singh, he asked in a column for Cricinfo. Being Chappell, he was coasting along on a disdain of coaches: "That's why the big money needs to be spent on finding the right selectors rather than being lavished on a small-town population of coaches who often make decisions to justify their existence rather than in the best interests of the players."
So he may not have much patience for Singh's Mumbai Ranji coach Praveen Amre, who has emphasised — with good reason — the need for the young spin bowler to get in a full season of first-class cricket first.
On the other hand, you could argue, Yuvraj Singh did not have to labour in first-class cricket before finding space in India's squad for the Twenty20 world championships. The Chandigarh-born batsman had a sudden and bravely fought brush with cancer, and has been out of the game for more than a year. Yuvraj's old mentor, Sourav Ganguly, for one, couched his reservations about the selection in worry about the strain this induction could put him through.
Harmeet and Unmukt are potential stars we are still getting a measure of — and, in these post-Dravid-post-Laxman times, Yuvraj is a veteran among superstars. Yet the crossroads we see them at reflect a common challenge for selectors, captains and coaches: how do you handle stars? With media coverage of sport increasingly organising itself around individuals, how do managers separate considerations of team interest from calculations of the interest a particular sportsperson draws? In fact, with the commerce of sport dictated by bids for broadcast rights, and the implicit importance of stars, is such a separation even possible? Put another way: how do team sports reckon with the brand value of individuals?
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