"If Hardik Pandya can't bowl, he shouldn't be picked" - MSK Prasad breaks down India's squad selection for upcoming Tests [Exclusive]

Hardik Pandya bowled in all five T20Is against England, picking up 3 wickets in the process
Hardik Pandya bowled in all five T20Is against England, picking up 3 wickets in the process

Former chief Indian selector MSK Prasad has opined that star all-rounder Hardik Pandya shouldn’t be picked for the England tour if he’s not fit to bowl. However, he speculated that Hardik wasn’t bowled in the now-suspended IPL 2021 in order to preserve him for the World Test Championship (WTC) final.

The Chetan Sharma-led national selection committee is due to pick a jumbo 30-member squad today. Keeping the 14-day quarantine and injuries in mind, the panel will name a contingent for the summit clash against New Zealand starting June 18 in Southampton, and a five-Test series against England which will run from August to September.

All 17 members of the home Test series against Joe Root’s boys in February-March this year – which Hardik Pandya was a part of – are touted to be retained. But MSK Prasad, in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, spoke emphatically about the need to include the 27-year-old as an all-rounder and that he shouldn’t be picked as a pure batsman in the longest format.

“I have a feeling that they actually asked him not to bowl so that he can play the Test series against England. Maybe they’re preserving him for the WTC final and England Test series. No way he can find a place as a pure batsman, when you have Viharis and the other middle-order guys in the squad.”
“If at all he’s fit to bowl, only then he should be picked. If he can’t bowl, he shouldn’t be picked – as simple as that. He should be in the squad only if he’s bowling, he will add balance to the side as an all-rounder. He will be a big asset to the side if he bowls those 12-15 overs in a day. That’s what he did in Nottingham in 2018, when he picked a five-wicket haul.”

The former wicketkeeper even conceded that Indian cricket currently has a dearth of batting all-rounders, with Hardik’s potential replacement being Shardul Thakur, who normally makes the side as a seamer.

Another tough call the selectors have to make is the inclusion of Prithvi Shaw. The 22-year-old’s chances had appeared to have dried up when he was dropped after the first Test against Australia last December, with experts pointing out the frailties in his technique. But the Mumbaikar went back to the drawing board and came roaring back, scoring heavily in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy, Vijay Hazare Trophy and IPL 2021.

MSK Prasad, who served as the chief selector from September 2016 to March 2020, was candid enough to admit that Prithvi Shaw won’t find a spot among the core group but would surely be in the enlarged squad.

“If you’re talking about the main squad, I don’t think Prithvi Shaw will make it. Because you have four set openers – Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal, and KL Rahul as a backup opener. But if you’re taking India A players, he [Shaw] will obviously find a place.”

Prithvi Shaw made history in the Vijay Hazare Trophy by becoming the first batsman to breach the 800-run mark in the tournament. The Mumbai opener amassed 827 runs from 8 innings, including a record 227 not out against Puducherry.

“If Jadeja is fit, I don’t think Axar will find a spot” – MSK Prasad on mix of spinners and all-rounders

Ravindra Jadeja was in red hot form with the bat on the 2020-21 Australia tour
Ravindra Jadeja was in red hot form with the bat on the 2020-21 Australia tour

India’s lethal spin twins – Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja – play a massive role in home conditions. They not only pick the majority of the wickets, but also seamlessly bridge the gap between a world-class batting unit and a group of fast bowlers who can barely swing the blade.

Now that India will tour England, where conditions wouldn’t essentially aid spin, MSK Prasad suggested the visitors play Jadeja as a sixth batsman, or seventh if wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant’s batting exploits are taken into account.

“Jaddu will play the all-rounder’s role. I think Ashwin should find a place in the playing XI. If Hardik Pandya is not able to bowl, then treat Jadeja as an all-rounder and play him as the sixth batsman, considering the kind of form he’s showing with the bat. Our strength is three fast bowlers, Ashwin for sure, and instead of sixth batsman, you can go with Jadeja.”

MSK Prasad’s playing XI for WTC final: Shubman Gill, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, three fast bowlers

The 46-year-old pointed out that a fit-to-bowl Hardik Pandya would replace Jadeja in the line-up. The Indian team management can also look at Shardul Thakur, who scored 69 runs (67 & 2) and scalped 7 wickets (3/94 & 4/61) in the historic Gabba Test win. In essence, one of the two spinners will have to make way for a seam-bowling all-rounder, if needed.

“If Hardik is fit to bowl and there are seaming conditions, then Hardik will play instead of Jadeja. If the team management wants to play Shardul Thakur, then only one of the spinners will find a place. And Shardul is an added strength with the bat as well.”

Axar Patel was a revelation during the four-Test series against England earlier this year. Replacing the injured Ravindra Jadeja, the 27-year-old left-arm spinner picked up 27 wickets at a remarkable average of 10.59 in three Tests. But MSK Prasad feels he doesn’t merit a place in the England sojourn, particularly with Jadeja showing tremendous form in the IPL.

“If Jadeja is fit, I don’t think Axar will find a spot. If you’re picking India A players, then he will find a berth. You’re going and playing in England, you don’t require so many spinners. When you have Washington Sundar, Ashwin, Jadeja, and if at all you want, go with a leggie in Rahul Chahar. If they’re picking Axar, they will take him just because he has done well against England at home.”

In fact, MSK Prasad didn’t rule out a place for Kuldeep Yadav, who hasn’t got much gametime in the last two years, in the 30-member squad. But the former selector-in-chief made it abundantly clear that leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal’s time to hunt for a place in the Test squad is up.

“For the longest format, they will never take Yuzvendra Chahal. We have tried him in India A cricket, and we have moved on from him in longer format. But if you’re looking at a larger squad, they might pick Kuldeep Yadav. Because if you’re not giving him an opportunity to play home Tests, you might as well go in with variety abroad.”

“Avesh Khan and Prasidh Krishna will make the jumbo squad for sure” – MSK Prasad

Prasidh Krishna celebrates with Virat Kohli after castling Jos Buttler in the second ODI
Prasidh Krishna celebrates with Virat Kohli after castling Jos Buttler in the second ODI

Before Rishabh Pant’s counter-attacking 89* and Shubman Gill’s majestic 91 in the fourth innings at The Gabba, fast bowler Mohammed Siraj set the tone for an Indian win by scalping 5 for 73 in the third innings to bowl Australia out for 294.

The 27-year-old speedster took 13 wickets from three Tests Down Under, and has hence cemented his place in both home Tests and the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) line-up. MSK Prasad echoed similar sentiments, stating Siraj now belongs to India’s core group of fast bowlers.

“Avesh Khan and Prasidh Krishna will make the jumbo squad for sure. The fast bowlers will be Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini. I am not so sure about Bhuvi because I don’t know where his fitness level stands. Bhuvi will play only those Test matches where conditions are little helpful.”
“Plus today, Siraj has overtaken all these guys, he’s giving you wickets consistently on both Indian and Australian soil. So I am sure Siraj is far ahead now. Better to invest in them thinking about the future also, nothing better for a fast bowler than to bowl in English conditions.”

When IPL 2021 came to a halt on May 4, Delhi Capitals (DC) speedster Avesh Khan was the second-highest wicket-taker with 13 scalps in his kitty. Prasidh Krishna, on the other hand, had picked up 8 wickets in 7 games. This was after the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) pacer impressed one and all by bagging 6 wickets in the 3-match ODI series against England in March.

“It will take some time for Devdutt Padikkal to break into the longest format” – MSK Prasad on the fringe players

Devdutt Padikkal smashed an unbeaten 101 in RCB
Devdutt Padikkal smashed an unbeaten 101 in RCB's 10-wicket win over RR [Credits: IPL]

RCB opener Devdutt Padikkal caught the eye of cricket fans and experts alike when he finished IPL 2020 as the Bangalore-based franchise’s leading run-getter with 473 runs under his belt. He then carried his purple patch into the Indian domestic season before emerging as one of only three centurions in the now-curtailed IPL 2021.

While rumors of him making the Test squad for the England tour are doing the rounds, MSK Prasad believes the 20-year-old southpaw will need another good season with Karnataka to stake a claim for a place in the longest format. He batted for the inclusion of openers Abhimanyu Easwaran (Bengal) and Priyank Panchal (Gujarat).

“It will take some time for Devdutt Padikkal to break into the longest format. He’s definitely the guy for the future, there are no two ways about it. But if you’re looking at longer formats, maybe he will take one more year of domestic cricket.”
“Abhimanyu Easwaran and Priyank Panchal will come into the picture if the selectors are picking India A guys, because they will give you good contests if they play matches amongst themselves. Also, the senior selectors and team management will understand where these kids stand.”

Further justifying the selection of upcoming fast bowling sensations, MSK Prasad said the likes of Avesh Khan and Prasidh Krishna would not only serve as potent net bowlers but also get the statutory exposure for them to make the big stage their own in the coming years.

“You have India A bowlers, all these Prasidh Krishna and Ishan Porel have gone through India A cricket. Also it’s pretty evident the way Avesh Khan bowled in the IPL, he was hitting 145-147 kmph in T20 format, so he will obviously be very helpful to practice with in England. And eventually, these are the guys who are going to play for the country in the future.”

And if need be, like we witnessed in Australia, these fringe players can graduate to the first team and put in a concerted effort to help India win a series in England for the first time in 14 years.

Looking forward for Shikhar Dhawan's captaincy! - Yuvraj Singh in an exclusive Interview with SK

Edited by Sai Krishna
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