Chief selector M.S.K. Prasad performed pitch ‘puja’ ahead of India’s second ODI against West Indies in Visakhapatnam, drawing flak and ridicule.
Recently, an image surfaced on social media, showing a handful of people conducting a pitch ‘puja’ at Visakhapatnam’s Dr Y.S.R. Reddy ACA-VDCA Stadium ahead of India’s one-day match against the lowly West Indies.
At first, it looked like a case of fake news, but it turned out to be true. The pitch ‘puja’ did happen, and was conducted by India’s chairman of selectors, M.S.K. Prasad. But it didn’t seem to have the desired result — last Wednesday’s second ODI was tied.
It was a bizarre image to say the least, for it seemed to indicate the lack of confidence Prasad had in his own choices as the selection chief. After all, India at home continue to be a formidable force in each format — they are No.1 in Tests (thanks to their dominance at home), and No.2 in ODIs as well as T20Is.
Under the scanner
Prasad’s panel has been under the scanner for some dubious decisions, as well as the insinuation that the selectors don’t have much of a say under the Virat Kohli-Ravi Shastri regime.
The likes of Karun Nair and Murali Vijay have spoken out about the lack of communication from the selectors when they were dropped in England — in Nair’s case without playing a match. The treatment dished out to Nair in particular has drawn the attention (and ire) of cricket fans, because he has played just four Test innings since becoming India’s second triple centurion after Virender Sehwag — he scored 303 not out against England in Chennai in December 2016.
In fact, there was a run of 46 Test matches in a row (38 of them since Kohli took over from M.S. Dhoni as captain) where India did not field the same playing XI. Prasad was selector and then chairman of selectors for most of that run. And yet, win, lose or draw, the chopping and changing continued, leaving many players short on confidence, which showed in their performances overseas.
Prasad is currently drawing flak for dropping the legendary M.S. Dhoni from the upcoming T20 International series against West Indies at home and Australia in Australia, although opinion is divided on this given Dhoni’s recent form and the emergence of the big-hitting Rishabh Pant.
Some are even questioning Prasad’s judgment by mocking his own record — the wicketkeeper-batsman played just six Tests and 17 ODIs, averaging just 11.77 and 14.55 respectively. However, this is beside the point; Prasad has played enough cricket at all levels to be able to spot talent and read form.
The real issue at hand — and why Prasad’s pitch ‘puja’ is being seen as problematic — is because of the signal it sends out. The chairman of selectors has never been the most powerful position in Indian cricket, since the captain (and sometimes even the coach) has always had a say. Playing XIs, whether at home or abroad, are always the captain’s prerogative, whether or not a selector is present on tour (as has been the case recently).
But for Prasad to be conducting a pre-match pitch ‘puja’ sends out the signal that he is not in control; that he has given up all pretenses of being in charge; that he has left everything in the hands of the Gods.
For someone already under the cosh and accused of playing second fiddle to the Kohli-Shastri power axis, Prasad has opened himself and his coveted position to more questioning and ridicule.
As his fellow former Andhra cricketer and association official G.J.J. Raju said: “This is what happens when ‘cricket illiterates’ are in positions which they are not suited for.”