Barring a spot or two, India’s World Cup squad seems set in stone. Apart from a back-up wicketkeeper slot to be decided between Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik, the selectors will be looking to pick an all-rounder between Vijay Shankar and Ravindra Jadeja.
After his nightmarish outing in the Nidahas Cup final last year, Shankar has returned a much better cricketer. If the team needs someone to stabilise the situation after a top-order collapse, Shankar is the man (5th ODI vs New Zealand, 2019). If the team needs quick runs in a stiff chase, he is the man to provide the impetus (3rd T20I vs New Zealand, 2019).
Shankar also provides an additional seam bowling option if conditions are conducive. He can also open the bowling and help Virat Kohli save some overs of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami for later in the innings.
With two wrist spinners (Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal) certainties in the first-choice XI, Jadeja provides a finger-spinning option. His feisty and in-your-face attitude can be valuable in a high-pressure tournament and he could also be expected to get some quick runs down the order.
A look at the possible advantages and disadvantages they bring:
Pros: If India go into a match with both wrist spinners, Shankar provides the third seam option. Hardik Pandya has been short of cricket and his fitness is also a cause of concern. Shankar can be expected to bowl with the new ball as well as in the middle of the innings, depending on circumstances.
With the bat, he can provide added muscle to the line-up, whether at number 7 or at number 3, especially if the new ball is moving around.
Cons: With the bowling line-up featuring Bumrah, Shami/Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Chahal and Yadav, the opposition batsmen will be sweating on the fifth bowler. It remains to be seen how Shankar deals with the situation if the batting team gets off to a good start. He doesn’t have the pace to trouble batsmen and his variations may not be that effective against top players. Pitches for the World Cup are expected to be flat and his military medium pace may be cannon fodder.
Apart from the odd occasion, Shankar has yet to show how he will up the ante against top quality bowlers when the team is looking for quick runs. His relative lack of international experience may count against him.
Pros: He is a captain’s delight with the ball, as he hardly ever gives anything away. Wrist spinners may be expensive on their off days, but Jadeja very often goes for around 40 runs in his 10 overs, even if he doesn’t take wickets. That’s a more than acceptable return in these high-scoring days.
A Test hundred and three first-class triple tons mean Jadeja is not a batsman to be taken lightly. Often he has come to bat in Tests with the match in the balance and taken the attack to the opposition and tilted the scales in India’s favour. Jadeja relishes a contest, getting under the opponents’ skin.
Cons: Pitches in England are not expected to provide turn for finger spinners. The bounce will also be predictable and it may be easy for quality batsmen to milk Jadeja for runs without taking too many risks. The boundaries on most grounds in the UK are relatively small and even some mishits may go all the way.
The last of Jadeja’s 10 ODI 50s came in September 2014 and the left-hander hasn’t had a substantial score against a quality attack for a long time.