NEW DELHI: A day after uncapped Delhi pace bowler Navdeep Saini was added to India’s Test squad for the historic Afghanistan match in Bengaluru this week, his former captain and mentor Gautam Gambhir has tweeted strongly to two of the most prominent Delhi & Districts Cricket Association (DDCA) members, Chetan Chauhanand Bishan Singh Bedi, underlining the fact that his backing of the 25-year-old has finally paid dividends.
In a tweet in which he has tagged former India captain Bedi, former India opener Chauhan and the BCCI, Gambhir said: “My ‘condolences’ to few DDCA members, Bishan Bedi [and] Chetan Chauhan on selection of ‘outsider’ Navdeep Saini to India squad. Am told black armbands are available in Bangalore too for INR 225 per roll!!! Sir, just remember Navdeep is an Indian first then comes his domicile,” tweeted Gambhir on Tuesday.
Gambhir’s tweet appears to be a fiery response to the long-standing criticism over his backing of Saini, who hails from Karnal in Haryana, and subsequent induction into Delhi’s cricket team five years ago – which both Chauhan and Bedi had objected to, with the former claiming that Gambhir and several other senior Delhi cricketers had forced the DDCA selection panel to draft in Saini.
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In 2013, as captain of Delhi’s Ranji Trophy team, Gambhir had faced a strong backlash from certain DDCA members, including Chauhan and Bedi, when he had picked a greenhorn Saini from Haryana ahead of other pace-bowling candidates, while instructing the Roshanara Club ground staff to roll out two pitches simultaneously – a green top and a traditional surface – for Delhi’s match with Odisha.
When the Delhi team management opted to play on the green-tinged surface, Saini was handed a debut, aged 21, alongside an attack comprising Ashish Nehra, Parvinder Awana and Sumit Narwal in controversial circumstances. Even before Saini had bowled a ball, the DDCA selection committee had expressed their disapproval at his presence in Delhi’s playing XI, and some members were at the ground to display it.
It was also reported that in addition to Gambhir, four senior members of that Delhi squad had threatened to boycott the Ranji match against Odisha at the Roshanara if Saini was not drafted into the XI. This, according to the DDCA, had forced chief selector Chauhan to drop Pawan Suyal – ironically from Pauri in Uttarakhand – to accommodate the rookie from Haryana.
Almost immediately, the DDCA’s Sports Working Committee issued a statement of disapproval which read: “A player who does not belong to Delhi, does not even play league cricket from any club of DDCA, has been included in the first XI against Vidarbha,” the statement said, while stressing that the selection committee, headed by Chauhan, was “unduly pressurised by some external forces”.
Outside the DDCA corridors, Bedi had objected to Saini’s selection in the team in a letter to DDCA president Arun Jaitley in which he questioned if a player from outside the Delhi/NCR region was eligible to play. “I wonder if you can even do it. If a few years back, a whole selection panel could have been summarily dismissed for selecting another Navdeep (Tomar), we see no reason why current committee can’t be dismissed for overstepping their brief,” wrote Bedi in December 2013.
The backdrop to the discord within the DDCA included an incident when Gambhir walked out of a selection meeting with Chauhan before Delhi’s previous game away in Odisha over the decision to drop wicketkeeper Punit Bisht in place of Rahul Yadav.
Following Saini’s selection, one of the DDCA selectors at the time, Mukesh Diwan, had resigned in protest while starting that the criteria for selection into a state team had to be based on either a domicile or employment in the same state, which Saini at the time did not have.