M.S.K. Prasad reveals how player selection is done

Prasad, the outgoing chairman of the BCCI senior selection panel, is proud to have created bench strength for the Indian cricket team for the next six years.

M.S.K. Prasad, the BCCI Chairman of the selection committee, announces the Indian team for the World Cup last year. “The shadow tours, one month before the seniors’ tours, are the key to our central idea of building the reserve strength,” says Prasad.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

M. S. K. Prasad may not have made a huge impact as a member of the Indian team — having played only six Tests and 17 ODIs between 1999 and 2000. And, as chairman of the BCCI Senior selection committee, he was even criticised as someone heading a lightweight selection panel.

But the 44-year-old left a mark of his own during his four-year stint — three years as chairman — one of the longest. In an exclusive interview with Sportstar, he shares his thoughts on his stint, the challenges he faced and related subjects.

How do you look back at your stint in the selection panel?

We have ensured that there is a back-up to every key member in the team. The best part is they are exhibiting their skills. The top players are always on their toes, for the back-ups are ready to take over. Look at Mayank Agarwal. In the last five or six months he is a totally different cricketer. And, see how when Prithvi Shaw was given a chance, he scored a century. So, we take pride in the grooming process of young talent or what you call the bench strength.

How was it possible?

The shadow tours, one month before the seniors’ tours, are the key to our central idea of building the reserve strength. The idea is that in case of any exigency because of lack of form or injury, we pick players like we did in the case of Shubman Gill, Hanuma Vihari, Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal from these tours.

Who are all involved in this?

All the managements of India-A, the Indian senior team and the NCA are involved in this planning of player succession. We identified a pool of 25 to 30 players and groomed them. In addition, we also picked 60 to 70 players from domestic cricket, apart from India-A. We are watching them. This is how we could have a back up when Ravichandran Ashwin was injured. Now, Krishnappa Gowtham and Jalaj Saxena are in the wings. Who next is the question.

How is the process done?

Players are identified on the basis of consistency in the last two years in major domestic events. Then, they are given the India-A platform to show their skills.

Do you feel that you have been successful?

Yes, for the next six to eight years, there need not be any worry about any department. First, it was Ashwin and Jadeja. Now, Kuldeep and Chahal. Then Gowtham and Washington Sundar along with the likes of Rahul Chahar, Mayank Markande, Shahbaz Nadeem. There are ready answers to the question, who next?

Any areas of focus?

After Murali Vijay, we needed a solid opener. And we promoted Rohit Sharma. KL (Rahul) is waiting for it like Mayank (Agarwal). So, we have about six openers ready. And this year, we found in Devdutt Padikkal - a wonderful talent from Karnataka.

Does this policy affect the seniors’ performances because of insecurity?

Insecurity will always be there by way of lack of form or an injury. Well, if we have this bench strength, in a way it is a challenge and motivation for the seniors to keep improving and evolving. But insecurity will always be there if someone doesn’t perform. Pressure is the name of the game. You have to take it and keep performing. And, there is a lot of pressure in Indian cricket at different levels. That is why the reserve players, when they come into the Indian team, are so good at handling it.

Any plans for separate teams for all three formats?

No. The core players in all three are identified and retained. That is why we are doing workload management. The targets are given as to how much effort each player should put in. And, they are monitored for peak levels, both mentally and physically.

Does it mean limiting the number of international matches for them?

No. When it comes to the Indian team, winning for the country is more important. Wherever we feel these fringe players can be given a chance, we will go for them, say if the seniors desire a break.

Who makes a critical review of these core players?

The workload database is always there. A chart is prepared for each player. We all sit together and take a decision on a particular player. For instance, Umesh Yadav was asked to miss the Ranji opener to avoid too much of workload.

What about an injured player’s status?

An injured player on comeback will be given preference if he has been performing well prior to the break. Well, if someone else comes in and does extremely well, he will definitely have a better chance. So, one has to wait. A judgement has to be made depending on that particular case.

Of what help are the shadow tours?

As I said before, these help to build the bench strength. If we come back to Mayank again, look how he played in the Melbourne Test. He showed the composure of someone who has played some 40 Tests. This was because we groomed players like him in similar conditions on these shadow tours. If you remember, prior to that Test, we preferred a schedule in the hot conditions of southern New Zealand. So, he was there and was a readymade replacement for the Australian challenge.

Your thoughts on Jasprit Bumrah?

Even though he was resting, he was training in such a way that once he came back into the squad he was not rusty. He was ready from ball one.

What were the major disappointments?

Personally, the disappointments were the South Africa and England tours. Though the boys played well, the end-result was not satisfying. Or, we can say our team was capable of a much better performance. Well, as far as the 2019 World Cup was concerned, we played like champions but for that one off day in the semifinal.

How do the selectors divide their workload?

We travel across the country by rotation with one of us always being with the Indian senior team. We also work in sync with the BCCI match referees who give us detailed inputs with regard to performances in given conditions.

Your panel is considered a lightweight one without having the command to put forth your views strongly?

It is about winning the confidence of the heavyweights. I always keep saying that it is not important as to how many matches you have played before becoming a selector. It depends as to how good you are in management. I am a management student. So, the team management should have confidence in us. Earlier, there were public spats on selection. But, never in our term. Well, it is good to have a difference of opinion. Because of our management skills, the transition of teams or players was very smooth.

How receptive was the think-tank of the Indian team to your views?

Whenever you discuss with the team management with an unbiased and open mind, you gain confidence. We come out with names with which they are comfortable, for they are based on performances, with a thorough process behind that. Earlier, some unknown faces were thrown up. This never happened in our term. Every player is groomed in a systematic way, like Shreyas Iyer was for two years with India-A. And look at Navdeep Saini, a raw pacer from Delhi. We picked him for the Board President’s XI team. And, he is doing very well now.

Prasad in conversation with head coach Ravi Shastri, skipper Virat Kohli and vice-captain Rohit Sharma at the World Cup last year.   -  AP

 

How do you feel about M. S. Dhoni?

As far as we are concerned, we are backing youngsters and giving them as many opportunities to settle well and play long. Mahi will take a decision for himself. As a panel member, if I keep professional duty aside, I am as big a fan of Dhoni as anyone else. He has achieved everything under the sun winning two World Cups, the Champions Trophy, the No. 1 Status in Tests. Nobody can question that. About his career, he will take a call. As selectors, our duty is to move on and identify the next generation of players and keep giving them chances.

MSK Prasad with MS Dhoni.   -  PTI

 

What is the selectors’ schedule?

On an average, we are touring for 240 to 260 days in an year. I deem it an honour. Our family too recognises this.

Did you ever think you would head the selection panel?

I always thought I could be a selector, but never the chairman of the panel (laughs). What I have handled in BCCI so far is not even 10 per cent of what I did in Andhra. For everything there is a system in the BCCI. Whereas, in Andhra, we had to create academies and bring different people together. So, all that we can do in BCCI is to add a few more dimensions which are successful. And, we take pride in the number of success stories in the Indian team, as most of them were groomed by us in the last two or three years. This is what gives us great satisfaction.

Your thoughts on Ambati Rayudu?

I felt seriously for Rayudu. I can clearly say that. It was a very touch and go issue. Our committee always felt that he should be on the radar of Test selection after the 2016 Zimbabwe tour. And, I spoke to him as to why he was not focussing on Test cricket. If you remember, based on the IPL performances, we picked him for ODIs, which may not look appropriate to many. Then, we focussed on his fitness for one month at the NCA, helped him there. He has delivered to an extent. Unfortunately, I am also hurt at what happened to him (apparently referring to the 2019 World Cup selection when Rayudu was ignored) having played with him. I feel bad for him.

The Karun Nair case...

With regard to Karun, after the triple century in the Test match against England, it was a case of missed opportunities. Even this year in Vijay Hazare and Mushtaq Ali Trophy tournaments he hasn’t scored much. It has been a case of either a very big score or a string of poor scores that followed. Look at Shubman or Vihari’s consistency. At least you should be performing. Everyone talks about Karun’s triple but what after that? I wish Karun does well in Ranji to make a comeback.

Tell us something about the Indian fast bowling attack...

This attack of Shami, Bumrah and Ishant, I feel without any hesitation, is the all-time greatest. It is even better than the famed West Indies line-up. And this is possible because of workload management as you have the bench strength to take that liberty.

How good is the GPS performance tracking and analysis system?

It is applicable to all those in the BCCI contract system. Even practice schedules suggest their workload. For instance, Kohli runs 17 km during a good knock in the middle. All foreign teams are also doing the same. Physios monitor the workload. I must say Shankar Basu, who introduced this, was a phenomenal trainer .

How is our young talent?

Gill can play in all three formats for sure. He has maturity beyond his age. He has a lot of time to play strokes, a graceful player who never wavers. Like Virat, Rahul or Rohit. He is a future prospect. One good season and he will be a different player. And, he is also an opener and all formats player like Prithvi Shaw.

How good is Shreyas Iyer?

In Tests, we have Vihari and Shreyas for ODIs. Shreyas is doing well.

Some words on Rohit Sharma...

Well, Rohit is now an all-format player. His transformation is stunning. We know his unbelievable talent in white ball cricket with those double centuries. And, in the last four to five months as a Test opener, he has shown his class. I wish he has one good away series. That should change his mindset.