MSK Prasad, in all likelihood India’s outgoing chief selector, has hinted that “constitutional changes” within the board might have diminished the travelling selector’s role in a few contentious selection calls in overseas Tests.
Prasad was specifically asked if he was involved in the dropping of Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara during the tours of South Africa and England respectively. He suggested all they could do was “show faith” in the decisions made by team management.
Usually, selectors pick the squad and the team management selects the final XI, but Prasad’s comments suggest there used to be flexibility around it with the travelling selector’s views taken into account.
“I don’t want to talk too much about those two things but all I can say is that there were some constitutional changes that were made at that time with regards to selectors playing a role in picking the playing XI on tour,” Prasad told Mumbai Mirror. “But we had to show faith in the decisions that the team management took at that point of time.”
Rahane was benched for the Cape Town and Centurion Tests, both of which India lost. In the final Test, in Johannesburg, he made a crucial 48 in a low-scoring game – on a pitch subsequently rated “poor” by the ICC – as India won to keep the series scoreline to 2-1.
Pujara was left out for the first Test in England on a dry Edgbaston surface, which India lost by 31 runs. Brought back for the remainder of the series, he scored a second-innings half-century at Trent Bridge and another hundred in Southampton. India eventually lost the series 1-4.
Prasad also didn’t think India’s ability solve their No. 4 conundrum – which became the subject of national debates – was the reason for the World Cup semi-final loss. Ambati Rayudu, the man earmarked for the position with a year to go, was dropped just before the event in favour of Vijay Shankar for his “three-dimensional abilities”. Injuries then to Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay Shankar paved way for Rishabh Pant’s belated inclusion.
“Tell me, did we have a problem till the semifinal with No. 4?”, he said. “We went into the World Cup with Shikhar Dhawan opening and KL Rahul at number four. They did the job until unfortunately Dhawan got injured and that is when we flew in Rishabh Pant. I don’t think we lost because of the No. 4 issue.”
Those two contentions aside, Prasad’s selection committee has often been lauded for creating and maintaining a healthy bench strength and defining a concrete path to India selection through domestic, age-group and A-teams cricket. That is what Prasad wants his committee to be remembered for. “Myself, the India A management and the Indian management sit down and discuss the progress of a player,” he explained of the process. “We look at the requirements of the senior team and groom a player based on that.
“Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal are a few examples. They knew which series they may be needed for, which is why they weren’t overawed by the bigger stage. The ease with which Shaw got a ton on debut, ease with which Agarwal made 75 on debut or the ease with which (Hanuma) Vihari batted in England. Barring one or two, whichever youngster has got in has been backed. For example Shreyas Iyer. He didn’t have the best of A tours, but we kept backing him and now you see the results.
“In the spin department, we have (R) Ashwin, (Ravindra) Jadeja and Kuldeep (Yadav). There’s (Shahbaz) Nadeem waiting outside with lots of wickets, we have Axar and Gowtham too. Similarly if we want openers, apart from our regulars, we have Shaw. KL has started to do well again. Then there are Priyank Panchal and Abhimanyu Easwaran. So we have about seven openers now.”
Terming criticism as an “occupational hazard”, Prasad said his management background helped him tide through times when he was publicly criticised by a number of former players, Yuvraj Singh being the more vocal ones. Incidentally, Yuvraj was the occupant at No.4 during the start of Prasad’s tenure but lost out after the tour of West Indies in 2017.
“I am a management student and at Andhra Cricket Association (where he was Director of Cricket), I dealt with much bigger issues than here,” he said. “We built Andhra association from scratch where people were not movitated to work. When Anurag Thakur came to Andhra in 2015, he called it ‘Adarsh Cricket Association’. BCCI is an evolved place, you have mature people. I don’t think I had a tough time here because I had gone through a lot of stress working in Andhra.
“During this tenure, I used to take advice from legendary cricketers which helped. My relationship with MSD (MS Dhoni) and (Virat) Kohli is intact. People might write anything but when I speak to them, I know how much they respect me.”