The ODI series against Australia was India’s last international assignment before the World Cup. The squad for the quadrennial showpiece is almost settled, and only a few gaps need to be filled. In an interview with SHAMIK CHAKRABARTY, chief selector MSK Prasad gives a lowdown on the process. Excerpts:
With so many options for several crucial spots, do you lose sleep over getting it right?
It is always good to have healthy choices rather (than) looking out for players. Yes, this selection committee definitely can pride that we have developed enough bench strength in all departments of the game. We don’t need to lose sleep to pick a team, as we will be picking the best team with best possible combinations that can give us the best results.
Picking one of two cricketers of virtually the same strengths and weaknesses is science or gut feeling, or is it the proverbial toss of a coin?
It is based on the needs and demands of the slot in the team. It is definitely based on certain logic and we also take into account the magnitude of the tournament or series.
While taking these big calls, do you get conscious that a wrong call would be life-changing for a player and also change the cricketing history of the country? Say someone like VVS Laxman, he still talks about missing the 2003 World Cup.
We pick players in the team whom we think are the best available for particular slots in the country with (the) sole aim that they can deliver the best possible results.
You also must be aware how fans after most World Cup defeats start blaming the selectors for making the wrong choice.
As long as we are picking the right team with right intentions, I am sure the results will be right. We can only control the controllables.
We are aware that the team management, selectors and captain have thrown their weight behind MS Dhoni. Dhoni has finished some games and there are others where he has got stuck. Do you fear about a World Cup game with Dhoni not being able to deliver?
We all know that Mahi is fit and still the best wicketkeeper in the world. His performance in Australia and New Zealand, and also in the (Australia in India) series with (the) bat is absolutely heartening. More than that, he has successfully won three ICC events under his captaincy. His vast experience as captain will only help Virat (Kohli) and the team on and off the field in the upcoming World Cup.
You have made some inspired choices. Which of your choices was the most difficult and which was the most satisfying?
There are plenty of picks in the last three years which gave us satisfaction. It may not be appropriate to single them out. Almost all the players we have picked were brought through a systematic process and that is the reason why they have excelled. Introducing two wrist-spinners in the shorter formats, bringing in (Jasprit) Bumrah and Hardik (Pandya) for Tests, bringing in Rishabh (Pant), Prithvi (Shaw), Mayank (Agarwal), (Hanuma) Vihari, Vijay Shankar, Khaleel (Ahmed) etc. were some of the inspired choices.The strength of this selection committee is that all of us have watched innumerable domestic matches. We have the stats of all the best players in domestic cricket on our fingertips. This has helped us in developing healthy bench strength in all departments across all formats. Moreover, we have a very good rapport with Rahul Dravid and Ravi Shastri, who are the coaches of India A and senior team respectively.
We frequently discuss about the needs and requirements of the senior team and work accordingly with India A players. Because of this understanding, players’ progression from India A to the senior team has been smooth.
At times, you have to compare apples and oranges … say when you have to take a call between a leggie and a left-arm spinner, or a pace all-rounder and wicketkeeper-batsman … how do you do that?
We pick the best possible players with right combinations for the best possible results for the country.
What is your general process? When you see an upcoming batsman at the nets, what is it in his technique that you look for?
To begin with, we don’t attend state team nets nor do we take the liberty to talk to the players about their techniques. If at all we notice anything, we speak to the concerned player’s coach as they are the competent people to talk to, who can later talk to the player and work on him.
Is picking a finisher your biggest challenge? We have Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Shankar, Hardik … they certainly don’t have the quality we had in 2011, No. 4 Kohli, No. 5 Yuvraj Singh, No. 6, Suresh Raina and No. 7 Dhoni…
It is not appropriate to compare the present players with the past greats. Every generation has produced top-quality players, who have done exceptionally well and won games for our country.
It was a stunning move to take out Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja from the limited-overs team at that time. The team management would later say that they wanted wrist-spinners. Did they push for it? Or did you come up with the idea? When and how was it decided that wrist-spinners would be the way ahead – especially as Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal had hardly any experience in ODIs?
It is not that Ashwin and Jadeja were dropped. They were definitely doing a reasonably good job. But we actually wanted variety in our spin bowling department. In the quest for that variety, we have unearthed Kuldeep and Chahal, who have done extremely well so far. Today we are happy and confident that we have enough bench strength (Kuldeep, Chahal, Ashwin, Jadeja, Gowtham, Washington Sundar, Jayant Yadav, Axar Patel, Shahbaz Nadeem, Mayank Markande) in the spin department who are all competent enough.
Ex-Australia selector Mark Waugh had tweeted: “As a player, why do you always want feedback from the selectors? Why you are not in the team or why you have been dropped? It’s normally pretty simple – not enough runs or wickets”. What’s your philosophy on this?
Though Waugh has hatched a crude reality which I do agree (with), but at times, certain things differ from culture to culture. Generally players don’t feel bad at being dropped, as they know that they haven’t performed (well) enough to be retained. They only want our feedback to know where they actually stand and what does it require to make a comeback. India is such a vast country and once a player is dropped, there are many waiting in the queue. This uncertainty creates a doubt in their minds. But my advice is that the only thing that is in players’ hands is to go back to domestic cricket and perform enough to make a comeback. Mohinder Amarnath and VVS Laxman are perfect examples, who scored heavily in domestic cricket whenever they were dropped and got back into the main team with ease.
How much does the NCA play a role in your selection considerations? Do you speak to Narendra Hirwani, the spin coach there, or WV Raman, who until recently was the batting head?
Yes, we interact with NCA on a regular basis. When we pick players for specialist camps, we take a feedback after the completion of those camps. Moreover, when we have certain players in mind for the future, we put them on some extensive training under a specialist coach. For example, Pant was put on such extensive programme under specialist wicketkeeping coaches Kiran More and Abhay Sharma. Now we can see a vast improvement in his wicket-keeping skills.
Shastri spoke about splitting the top three in the batting order, mulling on Kohli at No. 4. How do the selectors look at it? The reason we are asking you is that it might be a team decision to decide the final batting order but it does encroach on your role as a selector, as now you have to pick an ideal No. 3 and then No. 5 , 6 etc. (assuming Kohli bats at No. 4)… So did you and Shastri have a chat about this?
We will definitely discuss everything in detail at an appropriate time with the team management on different permutations and combinations before picking the final squad.