AS THE Indian team builds up to the Test series against the West Indies with their eyes set on the tour to Australia, chief selector MSK Prasad talks to The Indian Express about India’s failures in England and South Africa, the reasons for leaving out Karun Nair, and taking the “tough decision” to drop Shikhar Dhawan. Excerpts:
India had probably their strongest squad in a long time for the England tour. Where do you, as the chief selector, think things went wrong? What are your plans ahead to do well abroad?
I feel we have a very good Test team that can win abroad. Though we lost to South Africa 2-1 and England 4-1, these results are not the true reflection of the way we fought against both sides in their respective dens. I am convinced that we have one of the best bowling attacks in the world today. The way our fast bowlers bowled in SA and England was really heartening. Even our spinners did a good job. Our fielding and catching has been fantastic in the England series.
The area where we need to gel well is batting as a unit. Though our batsmen had individual successes, collectively we need to do better. The losses in Cape Town, Edgbaston and Southampton were all because we didn’t put up a collective effort in the batting department while chasing reasonable targets. Of course, we also need to find solutions for getting rid of tail-enders, which is costing us in the outcome of games.
How do you explain the exclusion of Karun Nair for the West Indies series? The team management doesn’t seem to have the confidence in him.
Communicating unpleasant news is a big challenge in itself. It is the selection committee’s responsibility though, and we have never shied away from it. Even in the case of Karun, my colleague Devang Gandhi spoke to him in England to keep his spirits up. I personally spoke to Karun soon after the Test squad was announced for the West Indies series.
I also explained the reason behind his non-inclusion. I told him that we cannot have an extended squad at home and keep him waiting for his opportunity to play in the XI, and that too in a two-Test series. Rather, it makes sense to play in domestic competitions and keep scoring runs.
Is the decision to drop Dhawan from the Test squad a sign of the selection committee focusing more on tough overseas tours ahead?
It is really surprising that a batsman who can rule in white-ball cricket finds it difficult to replicate the same in red-ball cricket. He is a treat to watch in any format of the game. Unfortunately, we had to take this tough decision after giving him considerable opportunities. At the same time, we can say that if Shikhar is willing to put in the hard yards required for the longer format, the gates are definitely open for him.
How do you see Rishabh Pant’s progress in Tests, both in terms of his batting and ‘keeping?
We all know what Rishabh is capable of as a batsman. He can make a very big impact at No.6 or 7 for our Test team. When it comes to wicketkeeping, he has some way to go. We are monitoring his progress in that aspect. We had requested the BCCI to get Rishabh to fine-tune his wicketkeeping skills at the NCA. He is now working hard there under the watchful eyes of specialist coaches like Kiran More and Abhay Sharma. We all wish that he quickly fine-tunes his skills and comes good with his wicketkeeping too. If he can do that, it will be a huge advantage for our Test team, especially while playing abroad.
How refreshing is it to see the rise of Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma, and how important is it to monitor their workload?
It is refreshing to see the rise of Bumrah as a potential force in all formats of the game. Initially when we picked him in the Test Team, not many believed that he can deliver in red ball cricket. But he not only has lived up to it, but gone beyond everyone’s expectations. At the same time, we need to preserve him as he is a precious commodity with a peculiar action, which can lead to injuries if his workload is not properly managed. It’s wonderful to see Ishant taking wickets consistently of late. We saw a different Ishant, who bowled altogether different lengths and angles in the England series. Probably, his county stint has really helped him to bowl well in those conditions. I am happy with the way (Mohammed) Shami bowled in the series too.
What is the role of India A coaches in the selection of the national team? How important was the feedback from Rahul Dravid when you picked Prithvi Shaw and Hanuma Vihari?
There is a process that youngsters playing well at the India A level get graduated to the senior team. These youngsters are groomed well under Rahul Dravid. He has been having a fair bit of success during India A tours that he has been in charge for. Of course, we take his opinion on players in the India A team when a need arises in the senior team. Dravid always offers valuable advice when asked. Even prior to the England tour, Ravi Shastri, Dravid and I had a conference call, where we discussed the various aspects of the game that we would be encountering there.