M. S. K. Prasad: Preparedness is all!

It’s the natural dream of every selection committee to win a World Cup during its tenure.

M. S. K. Prasad, the chairman of the senior selection committee, believes in a process-driven approach.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

Board of Control for Cricket in India senior selection committee chairman M. S. K. Prasad believes that India, more or less, has the core team ready for the coming World Cup in England.

In an exclusive interview with Sportstar, the former India stumper shares his thoughts.

How significant is the One-Day series win in Australia and then the triumph in New Zealand as India prepares for the World Cup in England later this year?

Yes, it is very significant considering the earlier record we had in Australia. This success is a testimony to the planning and hard work of the team management and the selection committee.

What do you feel are the strong points of this Indian team?

The first and foremost point about this team is that it has a leader in Virat Kohli who doesn’t leave any stone unturned to win a game. There are no half-measures about the efforts this team puts in.

Earlier, we were always a team that used to bank upon our batsmen to win a series. Now, we have a team that has both fast bowlers and spinners who can pick 20 wickets a Test match on any surface and against any side in the world. Moreover, this is a fit team, very good in fielding and catching too and has excelled in all three departments of the game.

What are your thoughts on our fast bowling in Australia?

The trio of (Mohammed) Shami, (Jasprit) Bumrah and Ishant (Sharma) is the best in the history of the game itself. They have surpassed the record held by the West Indian greats Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and Joel Garner. Bhuvi and Umesh also bowled extremely well when they were given opportunities. Right through last year, our fast bowlers bowled outstandingly. After a long time we have five fast bowlers who are equally competent to bowl well on any surface in the world. Bharath Arun, our bowling coach, has worked really hard and is the reason behind the success of this pace battery.

Virat Kohli will never give up and keeps exploring the possibilities of a victory.   -  AFP

 

What is your take on our fielding and catching?

We have taken more catches and effected more number of run-outs than any other Test playing nation in the last calendar year. Due credit should go to our fielding coach R. Sridhar, who is one of the best in the business in the world.

How convincing was our batting in Australia?

On the tour of Australia, our batting came to the fore as a unit unlike in South Africa and England. Ravi Shastri and Sanjay Bangar have come up with a different strategy of tackling the opposition’s fast and spin bowlers and this has yielded excellent results.

Workload management is the in thing in Indian cricket these days. Can you please explain it?

This is the key to the Indian team’s success of late. The workloads of our players are monitored closely and as and when it is deemed appropriate they are put on a rest, recovery and rehab process to keep them fresh. We have rested and rotated the players based on the reports provided by Shankar Basu and Patrick Farhart, who are the head trainer and physio, respectively, of the team. Because of this programme, our team is very fit and agile on the field and is better than many other teams across the world.

Batsman, wicketkeeper, elder statesman... Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a huge asset to the Indian team.   -  AFP

 

How impressed are you with Kohli’s captaincy and his way of handling the team in difficult conditions?

With every passing game we can see the growing maturity of Virat. Virat led extremely well in South Africa and England too. Unfortunately, the losses obscured his good leadership skills. But this series victory in Australia has put him on a higher plane as a leader. Personally, I feel Virat is one of the greatest captain-cum-players around. He has raised the Test standards with his exceptional skill as a player and as leader.

He gives priority to Test cricket, especially at a time when world cricket is moving towards the shorter versions of the game.

What are the grey areas of concern, if any, when you look ahead to the World Cup?

I don’t really see any grey areas. Our selection committee has created a healthy bench strength in all departments of the game and every player is keen to take the field if given an opportunity and contribute to the team’s success.

There has been a lot of planning in forming the nucleus for the 2019 World Cup. Do you believe that you have done everything that you set out for?

Yes, I do believe that we are almost there with our World Cup team. A few experiments happened in Australia and a few in New Zealand. I am sure we will be able to go with the final squad against the Aussies at home.

What will be the essence of focus as the selection committee zeroes in on the winning combination for the World Cup?

Well, the planning started after we lost the Champions Trophy final. We decided that we needed to focus on developing a healthy bench strength in each department. Today, we can proudly say that we have been successful in putting together what we wanted. We now have excellent choices in all departments.

Would you say that you have an abundance of riches when it comes to pace bowlers?

Of course! It is always good to have a healthy headache rather than go searching for alternatives and back-ups. Again, due credit should be given to the shadow ‘A’ tours that we planned prior to every major series. Ravi Shastri, Rahul Dravid and I, along with my colleagues, had several discussions about the way forward. We all think alike and I am sure you can see the progress of players from India ‘A’ tours to the senior team. This has been the key to developing a good bench strength.

Will pace be the potent force in England or do you feel that India should strike a balance between wicket-taking spinners and the pacemen?

Personally, I feel it should be a combination of pace and spin as we have seen the nature of the wickets that we would get in England during the Champions Trophy.

For someone who backed M. S. Dhoni, you must be pleased with the way he performed in Australia to become the Player of the Series...

I am absolutely happy to see Mahi among the runs and winning the Man of the Series award for his batting performance in Australia. I have also always said that he is still the best wicketkeeper in the world. Apart from that, he is hugely experienced and brings a sense of calmness to the team in crunch situations. The chemistry between Virat and Mahi is only going to help the team in a major event and I can openly say that they have huge respect for each other.

Are there still some slots for the World Cup that you would be looking at during the home series against Australia?

We are very clear about our core group of players. We might only look at certain permutations and combinations against the Aussies at home. Otherwise we are very clear about our team for the World Cup.

Rahul Dravid, as coach of the the India ‘A’ team, has groomed and identified candidates ready for promotion to the senior team.   -  Getty Images

 

How important will the Indian Premier League be, though it is a Twenty20 format, as India prepares for the World Cup?

The IPL is a huge platform where the best players from across the world participate. The pressure to perform and win is very high in IPL. Players go through several pressure situations in batting, bowling and fielding. And, winning from those pressure situations will only help them become better. I am sure that after this edition of the IPL, our players will be physically and mentally ready to take on the World Cup.

As chairman of the national selection committee, what has been the most challenging task?

There have been several challenges. The toughest part has been to convince senior cricketers that we are not going to pick them as we need to move ahead with younger players. I always feel that those senior cricketers who have won many matches earlier should be respected and informed of developments appropriately.

I would never want to disrespect the senior cricketers, but my job does not allow me to be emotional. I might lose the respect of a particular player, but if my country is going to gain from that move, I don’t mind being looked down upon.

When you look back at your tenure, what have been the most memorable moments?

Our selection committee can proudly say that we have picked teams that have been ranked No. 1 in Test cricket in the last three years. We have also been at the top of the rankings in ODIs and T20s. We have also picked squads that have won six India ‘A’ series. Having said that, due credit should also be given to Virat, Shastri and their support staff and also Dravid and his support staff.

Like all those previous panels, do you also dream of picking an Indian team that would win the World Cup?

It’s the natural dream of every selection committee to win a World Cup during its tenure. More than the results we believe in strong systems and processes. Once we focus on the process the results will be the by-products. We have worked hard with the team management to put some systems in place and I am sure the results will be really sweet.