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The chairman of the senior selection committee, MSK Prasad, was present at Eden Gardens during the Ranji Trophy semifinal between Karnataka and Vidarbha. In an interview with The Indian Express, he spoke on a wide variety of subjects, including the skill versus fitness debate. Excerpts:
This selection committee was called lightweight. About a year-and-a-half down the line since its formation, how would you assess your panel?
That’s up to all of you to answer. For me, I’m convinced with my committee. We have done a fairly good job. It’s not just about the results that we got, it’s also about the selections that we have done. The youngsters that we have inducted and the way they performed. On a personal front, from the selection committee point of view, we have done a good job.
Did you change anything from the previous set-up or incorporate anything new?
See, even the previous set-up did a good job. There’s no two ways about it. The beauty of this selection committee is the workload they took and some of the tough decisions that we had to take. We took it. And the youngsters that we have inducted, who have come through the system and come through the panel … I’m very happy for all of them.
How difficult it is to cover the length and breadth of this country, especially to pick the Ranji Trophy matches, with three selectors?
Ah, well, we have so many matches coming up, but at the same time, we plan in such a way that we cover almost all (every domestic team). See, we covered 27 Ranji Trophy teams last season. I really can’t comment on that (three-selector issue). But within our limitations, we have covered everything actually. We plan in such a way that we cover every match.
The Indian team achieved unprecedented success over the past 18-odd months. But with overseas tours coming up, do you think this will be the real challenge for the team and also the selection committee?
For the first half of your question, yes we played the majority of the matches in home conditions but that was the FTP. We didn’t play against ordinary sides. We played against Australia, England, South Africa – everybody. We did well. And since we have gained enough confidence… See, this is a young team and it has gained enough confidence to take on tough opponents, when we travel abroad in 2018.
After the Champions Trophy final, you brought in wrist spin and new spinners in the limited-overs set-up. What was the thought process behind that?
It had got nothing to do with the Champions Trophy. We wanted to increase the bench strength in our spin department. Like how we have enough openers now… Then we are trying to strengthen our middle order. We have enough fast bowlers now. So we want to increase the bench strength of each and every department. That’s the reason we started giving opportunities to youngsters and they have grabbed them with both hands, and it makes sense to give them an extended rope.
From here on, will R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja be considered solely for Test cricket or they still have a role to play in bigger limited-overs tournaments?
Absolutely; doors are open for both of them. There are no hard and fast rules. They are always there; they have done so much for the Indian team. So there’s always a scope to come back. It’s just that the youngsters are being given an opportunity. It makes even more sense to give them an extended rope and try them against the best of the opponents and see where they stand.
The Indian team management has set certain fitness parameters for selection. So is it a case that fitness now precedes skill? If a young player is very talented but not ‘yo-yo’ fit, will he miss the bus?
See, cricket itself is a skill-based game. Because they are skillful players, they are representing the country. We can never say that fitness has to precede skill. But the issue is that, if fitness adds to skill then one can perform in tough conditions for an extended period of time. If you see the example of our captain, Virat, there’s no doubt about his skill. Now fitness has added (to that) and he is breaking one record after another. And if you see the top sportsmen across the globe today, whether it’s Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, or any other top sportsman, it’s the fitness which adds to their skill. And it makes them champions. So Virat, or the team management, or all of us – we want to see that the Indian team achieves many more good results for the country. If fitness adds to their skills, we can do that. That’s the reason why these parameters are fixed and the whole country knows these parameters. So now, the youngsters who are coming up will know where they stand and (will) add some more fitness to their already existing skill level.
In that case, all state associations should also incorporate the required fitness parameters.
Yes. It has been circulated. The whole country knows today what are the basic parameters and definitely, these are the benchmarks that we can see at the NCA or any other academy across the country.
Is there a conscious effort to unearth 140kph bowlers?
It’s not a conscious effort just to find 140k bowlers. There’s no hard and fast rules that we are going for 140 or 150. But internationally, if you look at it, you still need to have certain pace to survive at this level, along with your swing.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar is one bowler who has gone from 130kph to 140kph over the past 12 months. Did you have a chat with him about increasing his speed?
Definitely not. See, there are certain things that the team management discusses. There are certain things about which the selectors talk to the players. Things that are not in our purview, we will definitely not speak to them (about). With regard to increase in pace and strength level (that this Indian team is having), full credit has to go to the team trainer and the team physio, who have been working day-in-day-out with these boys. There’s a change in their diet. There’s a change in their fitness regimes. The leader himself leads from the front in that aspect.