Zaheer backs Agarkar but draws selector’s flak

Ajit Agarkar’s decision to return home from Cuttack after being dropped by Mumbai for the Ranji Trophy match against Orissa has spun off a separate controversy, with his team-mate Zaheer Khan defending him and in turn being criticised by Milind Rege, Mumbai’s chairman of selectors.

Zaheer had said Rege and Sulakshan Kulkarni, the Mumbai coach, could have handled the situation with better “communication” and that there was no need to “humiliate” Agarkar.

“I am not the kind of person to say all this, but I just feel that people like Rege and Sulakshan are actually pulling Mumbai cricket back,” Zaheer had told Mid-Day. “This is an utter disgrace. I am very disappointed and hurt by the way the whole situation has been handled. It is high time things get sorted out.”

A disappointed Agarkar left Cuttack on the morning of the match despite Rege and Nitin Dalal, Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) secretary, asking him to stay with the team.

“I am very hurt,” Rege told ESPNcricinfo, when asked about Zaheer’s reaction. “Because if anybody questions my ability to select or my judgment, it is an opinion of the other person. But if anybody questions my integrity, I will not accept it.”

Rege, a former Mumbai captain, said Zaheer should not have made a “personal attack” on him. “He is a very mild guy and I do not know what provoked him to say something so harsh. It is not fair on his part.”

Agarkar said he was upset that he hadn’t been informed of the team management’s decision to drop him earlier, and was told of it only on the eve of the match. Zaheer supported Agarkar’s decision. “A player who has done so much for the country and state, has taken over 300 international wickets, has been consistent performer and a certainty in the team at least deserves better communication and respect. There is no reason to humiliate someone who has done great service to your team.”

Explaining his decision to leave the squad, Agarkar said what hurt him most was that Rege, who had helped him play for the Tatas, did not inform him in advance. Rege disagreed, saying the policy of the selection panel was clear: select the 15 and then let the captain and coach pick the final XI. “The selection committee feels the coach and the captain are the people on the job on the ground, so how can we select the team five days prior to match. The strategies are discussed in the selection committee but the final decision of whom to take or whom not to take in the XI depends on the wicket and the conditions.”

Rege he had spoken to Agarkar on the morning of the game. “He was extremely upset. He was not in a frame of mind to listen. I pleaded with him, literally, to not come back and we would sort out the issue. Even Nitin Dalal tried to convince him. But he was not prepared not to listen.”

Rege, however, was confident the issue could be resolved. “I will sit with Ajit and try and defuse the situation.” He said Agarkar would be considered during their next selection committee meeting on Saturday to pick the squad for Mumbai’s match against Saurashtra in Rajkot from December 6.

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