Prasad backs Pant for all three formats

Mumbai: Retirement is solely Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s prerogative but the chairman of selectors MSK Prasad on Sunday clearly stated that young Rishabh Pant will be “groomed” as India’s first-choice keeper across formats in the coming days.

Dhoni has not announced his retirement from international cricket amid widespread speculations but has made himself unavailable for the next two months as he will be serving his regiment in the territorial army. Without divulging much on two-time World Cup winning captain’s future plans, Prasad said that a legend like Dhoni knows when to retire but the future course of Indian cricket will be charted by the selectors.

“Retirement is purely individual (decision). A legendary cricketer like Dhoni, he knows when to retire. What is the future course of action, that is in the hands of the selection committee? I don’t think we need to discuss anything more on it. First of all, he is not available. Second, we have already started grooming youngsters,” Prasad said at the media conference.

The former India Test keeper wants Pant to get as many opportunities as he gets ready to fill in the big shoes of Dhoni in the coming days. “He (Dhoni) is unavailable for the series. He has expressed his unavailability. Having said that we had a certain roadmap and plans till the World Cup. Post World Cup, we have laid down a few more plans and we thought of giving as many opportunities as possible to Rishabh Pant and to see, he is groomed. That is our plan right now and we did discuss this with him (Dhoni),” said Prasad.

Pant was already the number one choice in Tests and now with uncertainty over Dhoni’s future, he has become the preferred choice in all three formats. The 21-year-old is a powerhouse of talent but at times, his shot selection in crucial moments have been questioned including in India’s World Cup semifinal loss to New Zealand.

However, Prasad praised Pant for his innings of 32 against the Black Caps after India lost three wickets for five runs chasing 240. ‘He played well. Especially in those conditions, he batted really well,’ he added.
MSK Prasad also defended the recently-retired Hyderabadi’s omission from the World Cup squad, asserting that his panel cannot be accused of bias.

Prasad explained that Mayank Agarwal was summoned as a replacement for injured Vijay Shankar instead of Rayudu because opener KL Rahul’s on-field injury during the England game had prompted the team management to seek an opener as ‘cover’. However, Prasad’s logic of Agarwal’s inclusion was far from convincing as Rahul played three games (Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and semi-final) after that.
After being ignored, Rayudu had posted a cryptic tweet, which was certainly directed at the selection committee, which had termed Shankar as a ‘three-dimensional player’. “It was a lovely tweet. Very timely one. I really enjoyed the tweet. It was fantastic. I don’t know how it struck him,” Prasad’s answer had everyone laughing when asked about Rayudu’s tweet.

However, he wanted to clear the air that Rayudu couldn’t be included purely because of the permutations and combinations and the selection committee didn’t resort to any favouritism. When Agarwal came in, it was more about having a cover for Rahul. In fact, he revealed that it was team management asked for an opener in writing. “At that juncture, written communication was given to us on the back-up opener. We looked at some of the openers working out on certain permutations and combinations. Some were not in form, others were injured, so that’s when we went to Mayank Agarwal. There is no confusion on this and by the end of the day, all speculations should be clear,'” he further added.

But the chairman empathised with Rayudu. “How much emotions anybody (Rayudu) has gone through, the selection committee has gone through the same emotions,” Prasad said. “When we pick any player and he does well, we feel so happy for him. Similarly when somebody who goes out in this way, the selection committee also feels for it. But having said that, with regards to the decision taken, it has been completely devoid of any bias or any favouritism into why we have picked Vijay Shankar, Rishabh Pant or Mayank Agarwal also,” the former stumper said in his committee’s defence.

While Rayudu has every reason to be aggrieved, Prasad reminded that when he had failed a fitness test after being picked on the basis of his T20 performances, his panel had backed the Hyderabad man. “Once he came into the side, we backed him but due to certain permutations and combinations in the side, we couldn’t pick him,”

He explained how Pant and Agarwal came in as replacements. “The team management requested for a left-hander and we had no other choice than Rishabh Pant. We are very, very clear on that. We know what he is capable of. That’s the reason we had to bring in a left-hander, which confused many people as to why a middle-order batsman has been selected in place of an opener,” he said.