Sunil Joshi’s Route to the Chair Has Been a Long, Arduous Journey
Take a look at Sunil Joshi’s route to becoming the Chairman of Selectors for India.
India has a new chairman of selectors in Sunil Joshi, who is known to his friends as ‘Jo’. His long career as an honest trier in the Indian cricket circuit was always going to be rewarded some day.
But even as he now takes on his life’s biggest role, things have not always been that easy for Jo.
Back in 1995-96, there was an air of expectation in the country. We were getting ready to host a Cricket World Cup for the second time, after the 1987 edition.
There was a peculiar problem that Indian cricket faced that season. India finished playing New Zealand in late November 1995 and there was no cricket for the team till February 1996, when the World Cup was to start. This is quite unlikely to be the case these days, but it was the problem on hand then.
At least what that did was to ensure all the top guys played domestic cricket. It is then that a name called Sunil Joshi first emerged from the Ranji Trophy.
Remember, this was a time when Rahul Dravid was still a promising batsman who was scoring runs against visiting sides, for India A and for Karnataka. India’s bowling contingent was still made up of the Karnataka trio of Javagal Srinath, Anil Kumble and Venkatesh Prasad.
So, while India mourned and took the exit from the World Cup semi-final in 1996 very hard, Karnataka was busy putting finishing touches to their triumphant campaign. One man who stood out for the team that season was their all-rounder Joshi. He scored 529 runs in nine matches with one hundred and four half-centuries. And to top it all, he also picked up 52 wickets with three five-wicket hauls.
It was then that it emerged that the Indian team could soon be looking at Joshi as a possible option in the line-up because of his all-round abilities.
His name first came up as part of possible squads chosen by TV commentators Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri while a tournament in Sharjah was in progress for a tour to England that was to follow. The fact that Karnataka won the Ranji Trophy meant that at least few of the players would be chosen.
The churn that followed the World Cup debacle meant that another champion GR Viswanath, also from Karnataka, then also national chair of selectors was forced to look at fresh talent. That’s how Dravid was finally fast-tracked full-time, along with Joshi. India took a rather odd step of blooding four spinners on that England tour when it was in fact not the advisable route to take in the first half of the summer.
Audition Failure and Confusing Selection
Joshi made his international debut in the first Test of that tour at Edgbaston on 6 June 1996 but he injured his finger and his tour ended abruptly.
He did make his ODI debut a little later that season, and there were signs that Joshi offered something extra for the captain to play with. His Test career was revived at home against Australia and South Africa in October that year but curiously, he was left out of the Test leg of the South Africa tour that followed, while getting a call for the ODI squad on that tour. For the Tests in South Africa tour, almost the entire bowling attack of India was from Karnataka, including the new pace bowlers David Johnson and Dodda Ganesh. That was the kind of impact Karnataka had on the cricket in the country then.
An Unimpressive Return
Joshi did make a return to the Test team, for the West Indies trip that followed in March of 1997. That tour is most remembered for India’s horrific surrender at Barbados.
However, India did have a golden opportunity to win in the match before that – at Port of Spain, in Trinidad and Tobago. The team had a lead but it then needed its main spinners Kumble and Joshi to bowl India to a famous win.
Joshi, in particular, came under criticism from experts for his inability to exploit the conditions. His Test career thereafter became ‘stop-start’ in nature, as he played only intermittently.
He was fighting for a place with old hand Venkatpathy Raju, tall Mumbai boy Nilesh Kulkarni and Delhi’s Rahul Sanghvi. It was a battle that ensued for close to four years.
Change of Captaincy and End of the Road
Sunil missed out on the 1999 World Cup in England because the think-tank again preferred just two spinners. With Kumble always being the chosen one, the second spinner became a case of merry-go-round.
Joshi did make a return to the ODI squad with a magical spell of five for six from his 10 overs against South Africa at Nairobi in 1999. He was back in focus, but this time his career suffered from change of captaincy.
The new captain, Ganguly, wanted to start afresh owing to match-fixing allegations. The fact that Ganguly did not rate left-arm spinners that highly was a setback, and Joshi was amongst a plethora of bowlers who suffered in that phase. He played for a very short while under Ganguly and his international career ended within the first six months of the new era.
Despite being dropped, Joshi plied his trade tirelessly for the next several years for Karnataka. He finally retired from all cricket in 2011 after nearly two decades of yeoman service. But his career remained unfulfilled, he did not achieve his full potential.
He did return to the field for one last time at a retired players’ tournament called Masters Champions League (MCL) in UAE. But then his next calling was awaiting him. He turned coach, trying his luck with Jammu & Kashmir first when he played a part in them beating a champion Mumbai side in Ranji Trophy in 2014-15.
Thereafter, Joshi also worked as the bowling coach of Oman and United States of America (USA). His most memorable stint, however, was with Bangladesh when he spent close to two years with their national side as their specialist spin coach from August 2017 to June 2019.
A lot of current spinners in Bangladesh have honed their skills under Joshi during his tenure.
His most recent stint was with the Uttar Pradesh Ranji Trophy squad during the just-concluded league phase. It turns out that apart from his long playing career, it is this coaching experience that proved to be the major factor in Joshi being named India’s new chief selector.
For a boy who learnt his ropes by travelling long hours from his hometown of Gadag to the nearest cricket centre of Hubli, this has indeed been an arduous journey. Joshi’s affable nature could prove to be quite handy in these troubled times for Indian cricket when it is not sure of the path to take to achieve success away from home in all formats.
Perhaps, Jo’s experience of taking the tougher route can play a part in changing India’s fortunes.
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