If Mannava Sri Kanth Prasad was watching television channels on September 21, when the BCCI constituted new national selection committees, he might have been disappointed, if he was expecting to head the panel. Even before the BCCI formally announced the names of the selectors, some channels 'broke' the (wrong) news that former India pacer Venkatesh Prasad was the new chairman of senior selection committee, replacing Sandeep Patil. (It turns out that an official attending the AGM texted 'Prasad' to some channels and they rushed to 'break' the news, presuming it was Venkatesh, and not MSK.
Former India wicket-keeper Prasad, who joined the selection committee last year as a south zone representative, had returned to India from Australia that morning, having watched India 'A' team matches. After the wrong news flash, came the confirmation that 41-year-old MSK was elevated to the chairman's post, after Patil completed his four-year term.
Prasad represented India in six Test matches and 11 One-day Internationals between 1998 and 2000. Born in Medikonduru, Guntur district, his first-class career for Andhra lasted 13 seasons, 1994-95 to 2007-08, when he retired from all cricket aged 33.
In 2009, Prasad, who attended Loyola Public School in Nallapadu, Guntur, and graduated from Hindu College in the same city, took up the responsibility of Director (Cricket Operations) with the Andhra Cricket Association (ACA) and worked for six years, until his nomination in the national selection committee in November 2015.
In that position, Prasad played a prominent role in raising the infrastructure across 13 districts of the state, launching grassroots-level sub-centres in rural places and each district headquarter. His task required him to travel extensively. So, he innovated and put a 'bed' in the spacious back seats of the Innova — and kept a tab on the distance he covered. "In the last two years itself, I covered more than 100,500 kilometres, travelling the length and breadth of the state," he informs. And now he will continue his travels but in a different role. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Outlook:
It's a long season ahead for you as a selector. You'll be part of the selection team for all 13 Tests in India, 10 as chairman of the selection committee. Are you looking forward to it?
Undoubtedly. Basically, I am mentally prepared for it. Actually, I am a curious type of a person. I've prepared myself for 'what should be the roadmap for the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy and the 2019 ICC World Cup'. I actually wanted to present [the roadmap] to whoever would have become the chairman of the selection committee. By God's grace I became chairman. Let's see how we go ahead.
You wanted to present what?
The thought process, how to go about the 2017 Champions Trophy and 2019 World Cup. I have prepared a blueprint for that. I was Director (Cricket Operations) for ACA for all these years. That responsibility has now been released as I am here [as chairman of selectors]. Apart from attending matches [in Andhra] I had so much of free time. I am basically a book lover, and I am always preparing and planning. Anyway, I look forward to brighter days ahead for Indian cricket.
Would that role at the ACA help in anyway as chairman of selectors?
Undoubtedly. If you can come and look at what we have done for Andhra cricket in last six years you'll be surprised — the amount of infrastructure, the academies we have developed. So much of planning has gone into it. I was actually on the road…in the last two years itself, I covered more than 100,500 kilometres travelling the length and breadth of the state; it's a new state [post bifurcation]. We had an Innova car and I had set up a bed at the back of it because I was involved in so much travelling. I was involved in the selection committees as well. We used to select for nine age-groups — six for men and three for women. Being the Director, I was part of it, to ensure that a proper system was established. There is always a chance for bias, so I was there streamlining the system and all that. So, that experience will definitely help me. My efforts have been recognised by the BCCI, and our own [ACA] members. I am indebted to all of them and let's see how I can contribute to the best of my ability.
Why did you mention Innova car? Is there anything special about it?
I mentioned it because there is so much space at the back of an innova, especially if you fold the back seats. So, I put up a bed there since I was travelling five days in a week because after the bifurcation of the state into two, everything had to be built anew. Today, we have 17 first-class grounds and four residential academies — three for men and one for women — in Andhra Pradesh. Apart for that, we've done plenty of other programmes. In fact, it [being a selector] is relatively easy compared to what I have done for Andhra cricket in six years as far as time constraint is concerned.
Wicket-keepers are known to be a patient lot, sitting down and standing up at each delivery bowled. So that virtue seems to be still there with you.
(Laughs) Definitely. A wicket-keeper is the backbone of a team. And I have led in more than 50 first-class matches, be it for Andhra or South Zone etc. Basically, I have that managerial skill and that's why I left Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), which manufactures Prithvi Missiles. I was working as a deputy manager and I left after 28 years of Central government service and joined ACA in November 2009.
So, it will not be inappropriate to say that a 'missile man' is now heading the national selection committee.
(Laughs) I used to spend a lot of time with our senior managers, technical managers regarding missiles at BDL. Don't mention that because someone from Pakistan will target me (laughs loudly again). No, no, am just joking.
Did you also have go through the interview for being appointed a selector this time?
I landed in India from Australia [after watching India 'A' team's matches] after the announcement of the selection committees [missing interview]. But I had sent an application for re-appointment.
Would the experience gained as a selector under Patil's chairmanship help you as chairman of the committee?
Definitely, because, all said and done, Patil has done a fantastic job as chairman. And I also appreciate the other members of the committee. In fact, they have laid down certain principles, like selectors not watching matches in their own zones [but in other zones]. For example, I am from south, so I'll not be watching matches in my zone. Since there would be pressure of selecting south zone boys, they have developed a system where each selector will be watching boys from the other zones. I hardly watched any south zone matches last year. So, I will be proposing names of players from other zones [at selection meetings] and somebody else will propose names of south zone boys. That's a beautiful system that has been established. And I will try and take it forward.
Is there any plan to appoint talent spotters, like the Talent Research Development Officers (TRDOs) were appointed some years ago?
I have no idea.
How would you rate the system of having TRDOs?
Frankly speaking, I have not put my mind to it. Maybe after some time I will be able to answer your question.
Since selection is a pressure job, be it at the state level or the national level, how do you soak the pressure?
See, we'll have pressure if we have likes and dislikes. If we have no personal likes and dislikes, and if we look at the country as a whole, we will always be able to select the best possible players for the country. At the end of the day, if they perform well, we also get recognition. So, if you keep selecting people who don't deserve then, apart from letting the country down, even our conscience and our names will go for a toss. I am basically from that school of thought. I am from Services school and have grown up with boys from the Air Force and Army, etc. I will remain like that irrespective of the pressure. I am telling you that pressure comes when you have likes and dislikes. If you have to select a particular guy and satisfy someone, there's always the pressure. That's the system [of selecting players on merit] the Vikram Rathours and the Saba Karims have established in the last four years.
And since all your current co-selectors are your contemporaries will it be a plus as probably you all will be at the same wavelength?
Definitely. We all have played together [and against each other]. Even in the previous selection committee, only 'Sandy' bhai [Patil] was a bit senior to us, but even he was a very, very approachable kind of a person.