Nuanced backing of Dhoni highlights MSK Prasad’s selection intelligence

A keen student of the game, chairman of national cricket selectors Mannava Sri Kanth Prasad speaks his mind out and is also talked about a lot.

Published: 03rd January 2018 02:42 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd January 2018 10:27 AM   |  A+A-

India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni plays a shot during their second T20 international against Sri Lanka in Indore, India, Friday, Dec. 22, 2017. | AP

A keen student of the game, chairman of national cricket selectors Mannava Sri Kanth Prasad speaks his mind out and is also talked about a lot. He is ever willing to open up to media personnel after every team selection.

Unlike some of his predecessors, who were either inarticulate or not allowed to discuss selection matters with media, Prasad defends the decisions of his committee and has the knack of disarming the media diplomatically.

For years, board secretaries walked in to just release the list of players handed to them by the chief selectors and finishing the job in a minute or so with all reporters jotting down the names. They refused to answer any questions, saying they were not authorised to do so.

Prasad is a clear beneficiary of the new, transparent cricket administration, unveiled by Justice Rajendra Mal Lodha and implemented by former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai and his Committee of Administrators (CoA).  

Prasad is careful in his choice of words, yet he is never at a loss for them. When he realises his explanation is cutting no ice, he resorts to storytelling to make himself clear. Like he talked of Andre Agassi’s biography, which he was then reading, to compare the tennis ace with MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh, and reassured the two match-winners that doors are never closed on anyone.

He has amplified his philosophy: everybody has a right to play cricket, it’s their passion and they are chasing it. After putting both players and media at ease, he makes it clear that the selectors’ job is to pick the best possible team after discussing about all those who can fit into a combination, not just Dhoni or Yuvi.   

After saying four months ago that Dhoni will be in the squad as long as he performed, failing which the selectors will have to search for alternatives, the former India wicket-keeper insisted after the selectors picked the squad for South Africa that there was no better stumper than Dhoni in the contemporary world, thus making his selection for the 2019 World Cup a foregone conclusion.

It is not that his panel has stopped looking at other wicketkeepers because there is none to replace Dhoni. They have Parthiv Patel in the Test squad and Dinesh Karthik for the shorter formats, both experienced wicket-keepers, though the latter is there essentially as a batsman.

The media picked up Prasad’s statement that there was a big gulf between Dhoni and shortlisted younger wicketkeepers, and asked Delhi ‘keeper Rishabh Pant, who cryptically said that his job “is to perform”. To underline his faith in Dhoni, he narrated a story about how he kept his promise of playing an Asia Cup match in Dhaka against Pakistan when not many thought he would be fit to play.

Though Prasad retracted from his earlier statement of finding alternatives for Dhoni, quite a few critics have found it difficult to swallow their forecast that the countdown to his illustrious career has begun.  
Critics may have rightly reasoned that Dhoni is not getting any younger and may not be fit for the next World Cup, but he has proved them wrong for now.

Virat Kohli was the first to defend Dhoni when the murmurs started about his utility to the side, and coach Ravi Shastri was more forthright in backing the former India captain. Much thought appears to have gone into the video clip showing Dhoni keeping his nose ahead of a much younger Hardik Pandya in a 100m dash to prove his fitness.     

Prasad doesn’t try to hog the limelight, taking credit for the team’s performance or for the selection of players. He readily acknowledges how the selectors were helped by India A coach Rahul Dravid’s inputs for identifying talent.

Prasad ungrudgingly stated that it was Dravid who pushed the cases of Hardik, Karun Nair, Jasprit Bumrah and Kedar Jadhav on the strength of their showing for the India A side. The critics took exception to Prasad being made chairman in the first place. How could a player with barely six Tests and 17 ODIs to show, qualify, they asked.

The three-member committee, comprising Sharandeep Singh and Devang Gandhi besides Prasad, may not have played as many Tests as the senior players in the squad they’ve selected, but they have kept a close watch on domestic cricket.

What the critics did not take into account was Prasad’s impressive background. He quit as a senior executive in a public-sector undertaking to be part of the Andhra Cricket Association as director of cricket.

He did marvellous work in creating first-rate infrastructure in all districts, and this effort of his got the association the award for best run affiliate of the board. No wonder, his man management is so good.

The writer is a veteran commentator and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at sveturi@gmail.com

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