'If Dhoni is not delivering, we will have to look at alternatives' - MSK Prasad
MS Dhoni is not an automatic selection in ODIs anymore. A day after India announced the squad for Sri Lanka, leaving out Yuvraj Singh, chairman of selectors MSK Prasad was asked if Dhoni was a natural pick, if the name rolled off naturally as it used to: "Virat, MSD…"
"Whenever a player keeps ageing," Prasad's reply began. "I was just reading [Andre] Agassi's book, Open, his life actually started after 30 years. Till then he won two or three. His actual life started after that. He lived with media pressure, 'When are you going to retire?' But he played till 36 and he won so many Grand Slams. So you never know. We don't say it is an automatic this thing… but we will see. We are all stakeholders. We all want the Indian team to do well. If he is delivering, why not? If he is not, we will have to look at alternatives."
Asked if there had been a discussion around Dhoni, Prasad said: "Discussions happen about everybody. It is not just MS. When we pick, when we talk about combinations, we talk about everybody. You will also see in time to come." Asked how confident Prasad was of seeing Dhoni in the 2019 World Cup and whether he was going to be rotated like other players too, he said: "We will see, we will see. The legend that he is, we don't want to make it… but yes we have a plan."
This makes you wonder what the look of the team would have been if Rishabh Pant had enjoyed a good A tour of South Africa. "As far as Rishabh is concerned, he is one talent to watch out for the future," Prasad said. "We have been grooming him for A tours. He went to South Africa on the A tour but he had a pretty ordinary tour but that doesn't mean he is not on our radar. There is one more A tour coming up. We all know Rishabh Pant more as a Twenty20 player, so we will look at him in that format also."
Draw what you will from Prasad's quotes about Dhoni and Pant, but he did make it clear that the next few months will see a lot of rotation in the ODI squad so that they can trim down from a base of about 26 cricketers they have shortlisted with the 2019 World Cup in mind. Some of the players rotated out - R Ashwin, for example - are going to play county cricket.
Prasad clarified that their exclusion was part of the selectors' plans. "It was hearsay [that counties had been in touch with players] Neither the players nor anybody else had intimated officially that they are going for county. Otherwise it is a clear case of resting them. Irrespective of whether they are playing county or not, we are resting them." Prasad later corrected himself, saying rotating them was the more accurate term.
When asked what necessitated the need for rotation, Prasad said: "If I put my hand on my heart and say after the Champions Trophy, we felt that we need to be a fitter and a stronger side. We felt that we need to raise our fitness levels and we needed to raise our fielding standards. We are trying to fix some fitness parameters and everyone has to strictly adhere to those parameters. We have two to three phases in those parameters leading up to the 2019 World Cup, and if someone fails to match those parameters, he will not be considered irrespective of whoever it is.
"After the Champions Trophy, personally, the committee and I felt that we need to be much stronger. Skill-level, there are no two ways. Skill-level, we are number one in the world; when it comes to fitness, we need to raise our standards. The Indian team management along with the players and selectors sat and fixed certain parameters. This is the fitness parameters, this is the body texture. They have to match them. Today the entire world has got those standards. Including Pakistan [each team] has got certain parameters. Though we are slow, I am sure we will definitely catch up."
Prasad gave wholesome credit to the A team coach Rahul Dravid for giving the senior selectors ready-made choices. "We pick the best possible team but it is being nurtured very well by Rahul," he said. "I think India is very blessed to have Rahul Dravid at A level. He is giving finished products to the senior team. Any player who is coming here is straightaway getting into the mould and is able to adjust. Whole credit goes to BCCI for having appointed Rahul Dravid, and him for having accepted it. It is always lucrative and glamorous to be a senior India coach, but accepting the A team we have to…
"Such a legendary cricketer working with junior cricketers, our players are blessed to have such a wonderful… I was fortunate to be with Rahul last year. The amount of time he spends on each player is not like any other net session. Matches will be going on here, he will give a scenario, this is what it has to be, writes on a table, and takes each boy to the nets. Round the day he will be throwing down. I am surprised. And he carried everything by himself. He is a wonderful person to have at A level."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo