“Team management and selection committee are always on the same page and we are very, very clear in our communication policy. It has been clearly told and I still stand by it.” MSK Prasad’s proclamation did sound a tad odd, considering it came less than 24 hours after the who’s who of Indian cricket had met at the same Hyderabad hotel to discuss the communication, or lack thereof, between all the concerned parties. The chairman of the national selection committee has, after all, been under fire incessantly of late over certain calls made during the England Test series, which India lost 4-1. He’s had two players at different ends of the experience spectrum come out openly and express their dissatisfaction at the lack or “absence of communication” after being dropped. But Prasad remained steadfast in his view that the “communication policy” was solid enough.
Though the chairman remained stoic in his defence on the most relevant issue in Indian cricket, he didn’t hold back in communicating his committee’s views on a few other pertinent matters. After announcing the return of Virat Kohli at the helm for the first two ODIs against the West Indies, Prasad stopped just short of dismissing recent murmurs of a possibility, or potential at least, of India ever considering a split captaincy. The question was regarding how “vibrant” Rohit Sharma, who took charge for the Asia Cup in Kohli’s absence, was as ODI captain and whether it meant he could be considered for the role as a fixture in the format.
“I’d like to tell that in 2015, Virat has taken on as captain of Test team, subsequently in 2017, he has taken over all formats. He has led the team from the front and we are no.1 in all formats of the game (No. 2 in ODIs and T20Is). As a player, as a captain, he has excelled. Whenever the need arose, whether it is Rahane or Rohit, in respective formats, they did reasonably well,” said Prasad ascertaining the status quo. He did add a softening blow revealing his committee’s view of how they want “all 15 to start thinking like leaders”. Prasad also sounded rather assured in his view on where MS Dhoni fits into India’s scheme of things, despite his blow-hot-blow-cold performances with the bat in recent times.
“It’s a no-brainer who our No.1 wicketkeeper is,” he said after the selectors picked Rishabh Pant — the only major change — in place of Dinesh Karthik. But Pant’s inclusion, whichever way you look at it, is a subtle message to Dhoni, especially since he now has someone significantly younger and a very likely heir to his wicketkeeping gloves right there breathing down his neck.
Pant, who’s made a strokeful start to his Test career, has played in T20Is before but is yet to make his ODI debut. This wouldn’t be the first time he’s made it to the squad for a 50-over series though. The Delhi left-hander had been picked for the tour of the Caribbean last year soon after the Champions Trophy. He, however, witnessed the entire five-match series from the bench before getting a go in the solitary T20I.
Things have changed a lot in terms of Pant’s standing within the team in the subsequent 15 months though. He’s now no longer just a youngster with a reputation of being swashbuckling and audacious. The 21-year-old has successfully debunked theories about him being a shorter-format specialist, and is now India’s No.1 Test wicketkeeper till the time Wriddhiman Saha regains full fitness. And a good showing in Australia for him might well make it very difficult for Saha to come back, keeping in mind his age and talent.
Prasad made it a point to insist that Pant was being “looked upon as a batsman and definitely a back-up keeper”. And on paper with the Indian middle order still in a state of flux, and only 18 ODIs to go for the World Cup next year, Pant could well shore up a crucial part of the line-up with his tempered hitting. If he does, it’ll put inevitable pressure on Dhoni to keep his batting returns from getting any more inconsistent. And on that front, all concerned will be on the same page, even if the communication isn’t loud and clear or too vocal.